Amnesty Hangs in Balance for 600 Rebels as their Commander is Detained

Gen Ayiga and his men describe their detention as difficult, marked by poor living conditions, inadequate food, and limited access to medical care.
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In recent news, a former rebel leader and his five comrades are currently detained in Ntinda, while over 600 others remain in the jungles of the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, waiting to hear if they should surrender for amnesty or continue their armed rebellion against the government.

Brigadier General Ayiga Rajabu Ayile, a one-star general and former member of the defunct Uganda National Rescue Front (UNRF) II rebels, is among those held in detention. He was initially taken to Yumbe District with a group of more than 600 rebel fighters before being transferred by the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) to Entebbe and eventually to a safe house in Ntinda. Despite promises of meeting President Museveni and receiving amnesty, he remains in custody for 11 months, leaving him uncertain about his status.

Gen Ayiga and his men describe their detention as difficult, marked by poor living conditions, inadequate food, and limited access to medical care. One of their comrades, who has diabetes, suffered a fall and a head injury, but their pleas for medical assistance went unanswered. The Chief of Military Intelligence, Maj Gen James Birungi, has not commented on the situation, and UPDF spokesperson Brig Gen Felix Kulaigye claimed he was unaware of the detention.

Officials from the Amnesty Commission, responsible for reintegrating former rebel combatants, have not provided any comments.

Brig Gen Ayiga’s rebellion history traces back to his exclusion from a peace deal signed by the main UNRF II group in 2002. A dispute with Maj Gen Bamuze, the group’s leader at the time, led to his exclusion from the settlement. Contacts between the government and Brig Gen Ayiga further complicated matters, leading to his group remaining armed.

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Efforts to renounce rebellion and return home have been frustrated, with some fighters being detained and others sent home empty-handed or forced to cook for recruits. The fighters have been subjected to harsh living conditions with limited access to water and sanitation.

While the rebel group has not been active in Uganda for over a decade, concerns remain about the potential recruitment of their fighters into other rebel groups within the Great Lakes region if they are not reintegrated into society.

The history of UNRF II dates back to its split from UNRF I in 1993. UNRF II signed a peace agreement in 2002, receiving amnesty and financial support for reintegration. Brig Gen Ayiga faced arrest and torture on murder allegations in 2004 but was later cleared by the Uganda Human Rights Commission. In 2013, he joined forces with rebels in South Sudan, forming a larger group of over 600 fighters. Efforts to return him and his group to Uganda have been ongoing, with some rebels waiting for his command to surrender or continue their rebellion.

Brig Gen Ayiga, born in 1970 in Yumbe District, had no formal education. He joined UNRF I in the aftermath of Idi Amin’s government overthrow and later became part of UNRF II, eventually returning to rebellion in South Sudan in 2014. He returned to Uganda in 2022 and was handed over to CMI in February 2023.

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