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Uganda appoints US-blacklisted spy to top police job

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has appointed a former military intelligence chief, who is blacklisted by the United States over alleged rights violations, to the top command of the country’s feared police force.

Major General Abel Kandiho was recalled late Tuesday from his posting as security envoy in South Sudan barely two weeks after being dropped as spymaster.

Kandiho has “been appointed to the position of the Joint Staff of the Uganda Police Force,” Uganda’s military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ronald Kakurungu said in a statement.

Until last month, Kandiho was the commander of Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence and has faced accusations of abuses including beatings, sexual assault and electrocution.

The US Treasury slapped Kandiho with sanctions last December over alleged human rights violations committed under his watch.

People arrested by his bureau were “subjected to horrific beatings and other egregious acts by officials, including sexual abuse and electrocutions, often resulting in significant long-term injury and even death,” it said in a statement.

The US said Kandiho was sometimes personally involved in leading interrogations of detained individuals, including of those singled out for criticising the government.

Uganda has long suffered a series of crackdowns aimed at stamping out dissent, with journalists attacked, lawyers jailed, election monitors prosecuted and opposition leaders violently muzzled.

– Abductions and torture –

Kandiho’s appointment will shine a spotlight on the police force with increasing cases of abductions and torture at the hands of security forces.

A prominent author was recently held for nearly a month on charges of insulting Museveni and his powerful son Muhoozi Kainerugaba in a case that has raised international concern.

Kakwenza Rukirabashaija, a 33-year-old satirical novelist, says he was tortured in custody and appeared on television at the weekend to reveal painful-looking welts criss-crossed on his back and scars on other parts of his body.

The European Union and several member states issued a joint statement on Monday calling for a “comprehensive investigation” into rights abuses in Uganda.

Security and military analyst Charles Rwomushana said on Wednesday that Kandiho’s appointment was testament to Museveni wanting to “have a firm grip (on) the police force.”

Kandiho will be “powerful enough” to make crucial decisions “in favour of (Museveni’s) government”, Rwomushana told AFP.

Once hailed as a reformist, Museveni has ruled Uganda with an iron fist since seizing control in 1986, when he helped end years of tyranny under Idi Amin and Milton Obote. AFP

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