Reports of two massacres in Uganda in which as many as 250 civilians may have been killed have rekindled fears of mass terror in the troubled East African nation that has hoped for an end to strife since the eight-year reign of Idi Amin was ended in April 1979.
The latest reports of massacres come from areas near Kampala that have been the scene of fighting between the Ugandan Army and guerrillas. According to sources in the capital who asked not to be named, on the night of May 24 the bodies of about 50 men were dumped out of an unlicensed truck at Musaliita village in the Mpigi district about 30 miles southwest of Kampala.
Some of the bodies had been shot; others had been stabbed and slashed, probably with axes and broad-bladed swords known as pangas. Many of the bodies were bound by the arms.
The sources said it was not known what tribe the men belonged to or where they came from.
In a second incident, Buganda villagers were massacred at a camp for displaced persons near Kikyusa in the Luwero district about 40 miles north of Kampala.
The fear of being robbed, killed or detained in prison without charge has clouded Ugandan life since Amin seized power from Milton Obote in 1971. When troops from neighboring Tanzania helped oust Amin there was hope that sanity would be restored.
Obote, who was the protege of Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere, was voted president of Uganda in a national election in December 1980. Doubts persisted that the election was rigged, and opposition guerrilla movements soon emerged, the largest being the National Resistance Movement.
Luwero was a former stronghold of the National Resistance Movement led by former Ugandan defense minister Yoweri Museveni. In mid-February, the government launched a major offensive in the area against the National Resistance Army, the military wing of the movement.
By April the government had announced that the mopping-up operations had been successful and the area was secure. However, alleged Army reprisals against supposed civilian collaborators have driven thousands of villagers into hiding.
Reports filtering out of the area said that people who fear for their lives have abandoned their homes to take refuge in swamps and bush country. Other villagers have been herded into about 14 camps that are guarded by the Army and the police Special Force, a paramilitary group that on occasions supports the Army in operations against guerrillas.
According to The Associated Press, western diplomatic sources said Uganda has appealed urgently for food for up to 600,000 villagers--most of them women, children and the elderly--who have been left homeless by clashes between guerrillas and troops.
Reports of the massacre near Kikyusa vary widely in every detail. Some survivors reportedly say that about 100 persons were killed, mainly old men, women and children. But at least one survivor has been quoted as saying that as many as 200 persons died and many of these bodies have yet to be recovered from the surrounding bush. What is generally accepted is that the attack lasted several hours and that the victims were either shot to death or killed with axes and knives.
The Luganda-language newspapers Munno and Ngabo reported that the attackers were guerrillas who entered the camp on the afternoon of May 27. However, sources in Kampala say that the wounds of about 40 survivors brought into the Mulago hospital there indicate that the massacre took place the previous week. Doctors at the hospital refused to comment for fear of reprisal.
The identity of the attackers also is unknown. A government spokesman contacted in Kampala laid the blame on National Resistance Movement guerrillas. However a movement spokesman in Nairobi disclaimed responsibility for the incident, pointing out that the movement's members and the villagers are all of the Buganda tribe.
The once powerful Buganda are opposed to Obote's rule because of their exclusion from executive positions within the administration as well as from the Army.
There are also suspicions that the ill-disciplined Army may be responsible for the killings. The ranks are made up primarily of Acholi tribesmen from northern Uganda who have little sympathy for the better educated Buganda. They are poorly and irregularly paid and often resort to robbing civilians to flesh out their wages.
The lack of sound information about events in Uganda highlights the state of uncertainty and rising instability in the country. It is common for travelers to be beaten up or robbed at the numerous Army and police roadblocks along the highways.
The government has reacted to the unrest by arresting hundreds of persons and keeping them in prison without charge, according to reports from Uganda.
For those who survive the violence, daily living is still a struggle. Although Uganda is fertile, food in the towns is sometimes scarce and has been extremely expensive since the local shilling was devalued at the instigation of the International Monetary Fund. The IMF lent Uganda about $104 million in August to underwrite a two-year recovery program.
Despite these difficulties, visiting businessmen contend that Uganda's commercial future is more promising than that of its East African neighbors. But for the time being, for those who do not have the security of an airplane ticket and a foreign passport, life continues to be a nightmare.