A group of American airplane pilots and engineers with direct links to Uganda President Idi Amin have quietly moved into that East African country in recent months.
The pilot of Amin's personal jet, a Northrop Gulfstream II, is reported to be an American.
Diplomatic sources say that Amin bought the plane from the Rochester, N.Y., firm, Page Gulfstream Inc., which during the past year has sent from 20 to 40 Americans to Uganda.
The firm's employees fly and maintain Amin's personal planes and the Uganda Airways fleet, which includes two Boeing 707s, a Lockheed C-130 transport plane and a variety of smaller aircraft. Employees of Page Gulfstream, a subsidiary of Page Airways Inc., have not registered with the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, as Americans living in Uganda are urged to do. They have also ignored the West German embassy in Kampala, which has represented U.S. interests since the United States closed its embassy there in 1973.
Some of the pilots and engineers are reported to have brought their wives to Uganda and a few are believed to have children living with them. The attitudes of these Americans regarding the recently reported atrocities in Uganda are not known.
The Page Gulfstream Americans keep to themselves and do not even mix with other visiting pilots at the airport, a Kenya-based pilot said. Most of them are said to receive free rooms and food at the once-luxurious Lake Victoria Hotel.
The Kenya-based pilot said that he was offered $3,000 a month, paid into a Swiss account to join Uganda Airways.
The company, Page Gulfstream, which has maintained an extremely low profile in East Africa, is believed to be training Ugandan aviation personnel, including air hostesses, in the United States.According to diplomats in Nairobi, Uganda Airways flew 20 to 25 trainees to the United States late last year. When the Urgandans applied for visas in Nairobi and London they said they would be training in New York and Washington.
According to the diplomatic sources, at least one Uganda Airways plane flew to Rochester, N.Y., home base of the Page Gulfstream, late last year, allegedly to pick up medical supplies.
The head of the company has reportedly visited Uganda several times and is saidto be on friendly terms with Amin.
The first 707 in the Uganda fleet was procured by a Swiss firm about two years ago. The company later supplied the C-130 and then the second Boeing. Most of the smaller planes were already part of a charter company, Uganda Air, which formed the nucleus for Uganda Airways. The national airline was started last year when East African Airways began having difficulties. Owned jointly by Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, East African Airways collapsed about a month ago.
Monday Radio Uganda reported that President Amin met with the Americans at Entebbe Airport and thanked them for the excellent job they were doing in transporting Uganda's vital imports and exports.
"A friend in need is a friend indeed," Amin is reported to have said.
Since then Amin has canceled his meeting with other Americans living in Uganda.