11 November 2012

Uganda: FDC Official Seeks Asylum in Europe

An FDC party leader exiled in Nairobi says he is living in fear after the Kenyan government blocked his extradition to Uganda, where he allegedly faces charges of terrorism.

"On January 13, 2012, I was arrested by the anti-terrorism police of Kenya, who had trailed me for a long time. They took me to their offices and interrogated me. They told me they were facing a lot of pressure because the Ugandan government wanted me," Frank Atukunda Kiherere, the FDC secretary for Internal Affairs, told us by telephone from Nairobi.

In November 2004, Atukunda, then a timber dealer in Koboko town, delivered Christmas cards from the Reform Agenda leader, Dr Kizza Besigye (now FDC president), to the Bombo military headquarters. He thought the gesture was an innocent wish for peace over the festive season and proceeded on his way. A few days later, Atukunda was returning home at his timber stores when he was stopped by plain-clothes security personal who roughed him up and threw him into the boot of the car.

Alongside 30 others, Atukunda was later accused of being a member of the shadowy People's Redemption Army (PRA) rebel group. Three days later, he and a group of men were paraded before the media and accused of attempting to overthrow the government. Atukunda says he was moved from one detention centre to another, in Arua, Bushenyi and Kampala, before he was eventually taken to court. In December 2004, he and 21 others were charged with treason and illegal possession of firearms at the army court martial in Makindye.

Atukunda and nine others refused to apply for amnesty for a crime they say they did not commit. He was finally granted bail again in 2007. The FDC Defence secretary and former MP for Kashaari county, Maj John Kazoora, told The Observer: "[Atukunda] was here [in Uganda] and fled. He left because he was being hunted, and I know he is living in a very difficult situation."

Atukunda, who often changes his place of abode in Kenya, says the Kenyan authorities acted professionally. "Although they were under a lot of pressure to hand me over, they acted professionally," he told The Observer. On the day he was arrested, the anti-terrorism squad searched his house for bomb-making material or any other explosives.

"The Ugandan government claimed that we were planning a terror attack on Kampala where we would burn the city. It was also claimed that I was harbouring trained people," Atukunda said.

Those who allegedly interrogated him included a Kenyan terrorism expert. "She realised that it was merely politics at play and I was innocent," Atukunda added.

However, the Kenyan police reportedly told him that the decision to set him free was beyond them.

"I was angry this time and I told them, 'if you think I am guilty, please hand me over and they kill me'," he told The Observer.

During this time, Ugandan security operatives were supposedly waiting at Wilson airport in Nairobi to pick up Atukunda in a helicopter. But the minister of state for Internal Affairs, James Baba, told The Observer on phone last week that he doubted Atukunda's version of events.

"I doubt that it's genuine. In any case, it's not our policy to trail people," Baba said.

But Atukunda believes that the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), where he had declared himself as a political asylum seeker, exerted its leverage to stop the extradition. Atukunda told The Observer that one day, at about 8pm, one officer named "Wanjau" reluctantly told him he was free to go. However, some sympathetic officers reportedly told him he was unsafe in Nairobi and should relocate to another country.

Today, Atukunda, who hails from Rwashamaire in Ntungamo district, lives in an undisclosed location and rarely moves out of his house.

"I have information that I am still being trailed by operatives and that anytime, I could get bumped off or be kidnapped. So, I stay indoors throughout," he said.

However, he says a European country he does not feel safe to disclose has offered him asylum and he plans to leave later this month. Atukunda's recent troubles began on June 18, 2011 when he was told that he was being hunted by security operatives in relation to the murder of renegade soldier, Col Edison Muzoora.

"I was informed that I was in danger and that people had been sent to finish me. I was at my home in Luzira, Kirombe. I quickly organised some money and fled through Busia on foot," Atukunda told The Observer.

Before his death, Muzoora had been linked to the shadowy PRA, which is said to be based in eastern DR Congo.

"I was told that my cousin had been offered Shs 20m to pin me to the purported Muzoora murder," said Atukunda.

Muzoora's body was dumped at his home in Kyeigombe, Bushenyi district, in May 2011. His death was shrouded in mystery, with his wife saying it was a natural death, while the police chief, Kale Kayihura, insisted that he was murdered. The police later arrested some people in relation to the murder.

These included the elderly William Mukaira, who is the FDC chairman for Bushenyi district; Dr Aggrey Byamukama; Obed Musinguzi alias Ssebagala, a truck driver; Boniface Mumbere; Abel Kacwano, a retired UPDF soldier; and Grace Twinomujuni, a school nurse at Valley College Bushenyi.

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