Security forces in western Uganda arrested Omusinga (King) Charles Wesley Mumbere of Rwenzururu Nov. 27 amid claims he was harboring militants seeking independence for the semi-autonomous region. Heavy fighting broke the day before in the regional seat of Kasese, after royal guards attacked a police patrol, leaving 14 officers and some 40 guardsmen and associated militants dead. The king's palace was set afire during the two-hour battle, and a cache of weapons seized. President Yoweri Museveni had phoned the king that morning and ordered him to disband the guards, who are accused of leading a militia seeking an independent "Yiira Republic," straddling the border of Uganda and North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The region saw intermittent conflict between 1962, when the Bakonzo people declared the Rwenzururu kingdom, and 1982, when insurgents laid down arms in exchange for greater regional autonomy. Regional monarchies with limited powers were restored in Uganda in 1993, after being banned in the 1960s. President Museveni officially recognized the Rwenzururu kingdom in 2009. Spokesmen for the kingdom denied involvement in plans for the Yiira Republic, which would unite the Bakonzo (or Konzo) and related Banande (Nande) people in DRC. The two peoples, long divided by the border, increasingly see themselves as part of the unified Bayira ethnicity.
Museveni proclaimed earlier this year: "I want to state categorically, that Uganda will not lose even a piece of her land to the creation of the so-called Yiira republic and whoever wants that republic should create it outside Uganda's territory." He ordered more troops from the Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF) to Rwenzururu in response to the separatist initiative. (NTV-Uganda, Al Jazeera, New Vision, New Vision, Kampala, Nov. 28; BBC News, New Vision, Daily Nation, Nairobi, Nov. 27; New Vision, April 11)