Archive article: (August 5, 1985) Coup Leader In Uganda Calls For Unity
By SHEILA RULE, Special to the New York Times – Published: August 5, 1985
KAMPALA, Uganda, Aug. 4 1985— The leader of the military coup that overthrew the Government of President Milton Obote eight days ago appealed today for unity among the various political factions in this East African country so that elections can be held in a year.
Insisting that the new regime was in complete control of Uganda, Brig. Bazilio Olara Okello said in an interview that if ”we can agree on unity, we shall manage security in Uganda.”
The leaders of the country’s new military council have said that general elections, which were originally to have taken place before the end of the year under Mr. Obote’s administration, would be held in 12 months’ time.
One member of the council, Col. Fred Okecho, said that representatives of Yoweri Museveni, who led rebels in a four-year bush war against Mr. Obote, were being contacted ”from time to time to let them know what is going on.”
Role Seen as Crucial
Mr. Museveni has not agreed to join the new Government, even after specific requests from the military regime to do so, and his participation is seen by both Western analysts and military leaders here as crucial to any semblance of stability in the nation. Colonel Okecho said that Mr. Museveni’s representatives agreed that ”Uganda has suffered enough.”
”They don’t want this continuous shedding of blood,” the colonel said, standing beside Brigadier Okello on the grounds of Nile Mansions, the Government offices that have become central headquarters for the new regime.
”They have the complete realization that unity will be the answer to build our country again and remove Uganda from all the chaos it had in the past.”
Western diplomats say that what Mr. Museveni wants and what he will do if he does not get it represent the main card remaining to be played as the new regime begins the process of forming a Cabinet and administration.
Behind the Rebel’s Pressure
These sources say Mr. Museveni has kept pressure on the new leaders so that he can play a significant role in the new Government, including a large number of seats in the Cabinet and on the military council. How many seats he manages to gain could be seen as a symbol of how far the new leaders are willing to go in accommodating him and his views of how the nation should be run, Western analysts say.
Colonel Okecho said that until the country’s various political parties came together and agreed on how best to form the Cabinet no new Cabinet officials would be announced. He said that if leaders of parties who had left Uganda were afraid to come back, the new Government would send a delegation outside the country to meet with them.
Brigadier Okello, a member of the Acholi tribe, which dominates the army, said no political detainees held under the Obote regime would be released until a full Government had been established. Western sources placed the number of detainees in civilian prisons, who have been held without charges or trial, at about 800.
When asked about the gross human rights violations that have tormented Uganda, a matter of grave concern to the United States and to Amnesty International, the London-based human rights organization, he said it would be left to the new Prime Minister and President to decide whether to invite Amnesty International into the country. But he said he thought it would be a good move to allow the group in.
A Bad Record on Rights
Amnesty International recently issued a report of atrocities in Uganda showing that this country continued to have one of the world’s worst records on human rights. The organization charged that thousands of people were being held by the military in various barracks. When members of the organization asked for permission to enter the barracks, the Obote Government refused. Shortly before the coup, Western sources here say, there were indications that some of those being held unlawfully by the military were being transferred to civilian jails.
Last year Elliott A. Abrams, the United States Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights, said that more than 100,000 Ugandans had died in rebel strongholds in the Lowero triangle region northwest of this capital city as a result of army action or starvation.
Brigadier Okello maintained that his military forces had killed no one during the coup but said he had received reports that members of Mr. Obote’s special security forces had mutilated and killed more than 100 civilian men, women and children in the area of the city of Lira in northern Uganda, which is Mr. Obote’s home area, immediately after the overthrow.
Colonel Okecho said the new regime wanted Mr. Obote, who fled to Kenya after the coup on July 27 and is believed by some here to now be in Zambia, to be returned to Uganda to face ”the law of the country.”
Today, meanwhile, fewer checkpoints were seen at street corners and on the main roads throughout the city. The 7 P.M. to 6 A.M. curfew, however, remained in effect and the Entebbe Airport remained closed.
Virtually no gunfire has been heard in the last two days, except for a case in which a group of soldiers caught up in their personal festivities at the Speke Hotel here Saturday night repeatedly fired shots into the air outside the rooms of several gun-shy guests.