Kampala — Ugandan security authorities have accepted that innocent civilians have been illegally arrested and detained on charges of terrorism. "In the process of trying to arrest terrorists at times you find people who are innocent," the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence boss, Col. Leopold Kyanda, has said.
And he justified: "As you all very well know, a terrorist does not have any boundary. So, operations against a terrorist are complicated. A terrorist does not wear uniform; a terrorist does not demarcate boundaries but is amongst everybody."
In Uganda, under the 2003 Terrorist Act, the offence attracts a maximum sentence. To complicate matters, the law, enacted after the 2001 September attack on the US by suspected Al Qaeda extremists, is a little amorphous and extends to those in contact with suspects.
"Terrorism is more complicated than the ordinary crime where within the stipulated 48 hours you will not get (have got) what you want. So some of these individuals are held in transit (infamous safe houses), and we begin to get more information whether they are clean or not and then proceed with the cases. So that is what I can say about the innocent people we pick up (arrest) accidentally during terrorist operations;" Kyanda, flanked by his army chief, the Chief of Defence Forces, Gen. Aronda Nyakairima, said at a press conference mid last week in a question and answer session.
But Nyakairima denied the existence of safe houses. He aside: "the government policy is extremely clear; there are no safe houses. We completely do not have these places."
Sections of the opposition have accused President Yoweri Museveni's administration of using the Terrorism Act as a tool to frustrate their efforts to compete for State power. Also the local media has vehemently opposed the law in vain.
Government recently secured international sympathy list Joseph Kony and other Lord's Resistance Army senior leaders among the most wanted terrorists. President George Bush last year enacted controversial changes in the system of interrogating and prosecuting terrorism suspects, setting the rules for the trials of key al-Qaeda members in a step that he says will help protect his nation. His position is expected to impact greatly on African countries, where terrorists, of recently, have withdrawn to.