Uganda reprisal attacks after tribal killings: rights group

UPDF soldiers and police forces patrol streets in Kampala with a tactical operation vehicle on July 3 2014 (AFP Photo/Peter Busomoke)

Kampala (AFP) - Ugandan security forces committed "reprisal killings" in a remote mountain region earlier this year to crush tribal clashes, Human Rights Watch said Wednesday, highlighting reports of torture and mass graves.

Around a 100 people were killed, possibly more, in days of violence in the far western Rwenzori mountain range in July, when gangs armed with machetes, spears and guns launched a series of surprise raids to massacre neighbouring rivals, as well as raiding police and army posts.

The army later sent in extra troops to hunt down the fighters.

But HRW said the killings continued after the first wave of attacks had been stopped.

Witnesses interviewed by HRW said that "some security officials were involved in reprisal killings and beatings and that numerous victims of the violence had been buried in mass graves".

Police said violence erupted when organised armed gangs from Bakonzo people launched coordinated attacks to kill rival Basongora and Bamba groups.

HRW, in a report based on over 50 interviews with those involved, said it had credible reports of subsequent reprisal attacks against the Bakonzo people, who were "attacked, detained in private homes, mutilated, tortured, killed, and burned or buried in mass and unmarked graves".

One man, ordered to help bury corpses in a mass grave, told HRW he had "picked up the bodies from inside the barracks," and that "some of the bodies had no heads and hands, others had bullet wounds on the head and chest".

But government spokesman Ofwono Opondo dismissed the criticism, saying they "don't need HRW to direct the government on how to proceed" and praised the operation to stop the fighting.

"Uganda's government is happy that the security forces expeditiously brought the uncalled-for violent ethnic conflict to an end," he told AFP.

"We repeat, no one will attack a government installation, especially police or military barracks, and expect soft gloves."

Opondo added that trials had started of some of the alleged ringleaders while "reconciliation efforts among communities continue".