- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Uganda’s prisoner

Ugandan Ambassador Edith Ssempala is trying to counter foreign news reports that her country arrested a critic of the Ugandan government for political reasons.

Mrs. Ssempala this week released a statement from Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa, who said opposition leader Kizza Besigye was arrested for plotting to overthrow the government. Dr. Besigye lost the 2001 presidential election to Yoweri Museveni, who won with about 70 percent of the vote. Most observers certified the election as mostly fair but cited some intimidation from Mr. Museveni’s supporters.

The ambassador insisted Dr. Besigye will get a fair trial on charges of treason and the rape of a 17-year-old girl eight years ago.

“I would like to assure all of you that Dr. Besigye will be accorded due process of law in a transparent atmosphere and in a speedy manner,” Mrs. Ssempala wrote in an e-mail to reporters in Washington.

Dr. Besigye, who at one time was Mr. Museveni’s personal physician, was arrested Nov. 14 along with 22 others named as co-conspirators. They later were charged with terrorism and illegal possession of weapons.

His arrest sparked two days of rioting in which two persons were killed and dozens apprehended. The government yesterday banned further public demonstrations. The United States has expressed concern for the “disruption to Uganda’s political process.”

Dr. Besigye was jailed three weeks after he returned to Uganda from four years of self-imposed exile. He said he fled the country after the election because he feared for his life.

In his statement, the foreign minister noted that Dr. Besigye made no effort to conceal his opinion that the overthrow of Mr. Museveni’s government would be justified.

“Since his return to Uganda … Dr. Besigye has persistently justified armed rebellion against the government,” Mr. Kutesa said.

He cited news reports that quoted Dr. Besigye as saying he would “not renounce armed rebellion as President Museveni has demanded.”

Mr. Kutesa said: “There is absolutely no basis for justifying armed rebellion in Uganda. Even international institutions, including the United Nations, have established that Uganda had improved dramatically in terms of economic and human development.

“Ugandans now live longer, are healthier and better educated than a decade ago.”

Over the weekend, Mr. Museveni, who has been in power since 1986, announced he will run for re-election next year.

Swaziland’s image

Swaziland’s new ambassador is working Capitol Hill to try to improve the image of Africa’s last absolute monarchy.

The tiny southern African nation of about 1.2 million people suffers with an unemployment rate of about 40 percent and a high rate of AIDS. The State Department criticizes the government for a poor human rights record but also notes that it has a free economy with little interference from the government.

Ambassador Ephraim M. Hlophe met last week with Rep. Christopher H. Smith, chairman of the House International Relations subcommittee on Africa, global human rights and international operations.

The U.S.-educated ambassador, who graduated from the University of Pittsburgh, said he and the New Jersey Republican discussed Swaziland’s efforts to combat AIDS. About 40 percent of the population is infected by the deadly disease or by the HIV virus that causes it, the State Department reports.

Mr. Hlophe said they also discussed trade and investment in the kingdom.

Last month, the ambassador presented his diplomatic credentials to President Bush and made a pitch for U.S. business.

“Our country welcomes American firms to explore the many possibilities Swaziland has to offer in mining, tourism, manufacturing, agribusiness and international services,” Mr. Hlophe said.

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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