The bodies of seven Ugandan soldiers, who died in the helicopter crash in Kenya, were Saturday afternoon returned to Uganda.
They were taken to Bombo military hospital for a post-mortem, from where they will be transported to their ancestral homes for burial on Tuesday.
Their plane landed at the Entebbe military airbase at about 2:30pm amid heavy rainfall. Defence minister Cryspus Kiyonga, defence state minister Jeje Odong, army commander Gen. Aronda Nyakairima, his deputy Gen. Ivan Koreta, airforce commander Maj. Gen. Jim Owoyesigire and over a dozen other army generals, lined up in the rain to receive the bodies.
The caskets, covered by the Uganda flags, were later taken to a tent, where a short funeral ceremony was conducted by Muslim, Catholic and Protestant religious leaders.
The senior human resources officer of the African Union Commission, Ian Chingwalu, accompanied the bodies to Uganda. He said the death of the soldiers was a loss to the whole of Africa.
"They died on duty. What they were doing was not only contributing to the security of Uganda, but the whole world. As AU, we are proud of Uganda's contribution to peacekeeping and the success achieved in Somalia," he said.
Dozens of relatives camped at the airbase for several hours to receive the bodies, periodically sobbing and shedding tears as they waited.
They named at least 15 orphans from six families.
Kiyonga promised that the Government would support the bereaved families and ensure the children get education. He criticized opposition politicians who attacked the Government over sending troops to Somalia. He explained that five years ago, Parliament unanimously approved the Somalia mission.
Owoyesigire said Capt. William Letti, pilot of the plane that went up in flames, was one of the most experienced in Uganda and dismissed accusations that those could have been junk helicopters.
"Why don't you go to the bush and we get you there, then you will know that these are not junk helicopters," he said.
Meanwhile, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has joined the investigations into the ill-fated chopper crash. Kulayigye confirmed that ICAO would be part of the probe that will comprise members from the Kenya Defence Force and Uganda.
President Yoweri Museveni early this week appointed a probe committee that will be headed by the presidential advisor on security, Gen. Salim Saleh.
"The President appointed four members and we are waiting for the chief of defence forces to appoint the other three so that they are seven," Kulayigye confirmed, adding that the committee would start its work next week.
The fallen heroes are:
Capt. William Letti
Lt. Patrick Nahamya
2nd Lt. Robert Mushabe
2nd Lt. Nelson Mulumba
WO. David Kakube
Sgt. Mweshezi Rahumata
Sgt. Charles Lukwago