The United States accused Uganda’s government of intensifying human rights abuses, taking aim at an African ally that Washington recently pledged to help against rebels of the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army.
The State Department, in a toughly worded statement, said Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s government was targeting peaceful protests and opposition as well as activists.
“Recently the Ugandan government has failed to respect freedoms of expression, assembly, and the media, as well as its commitment to protect the human rights of all Ugandans,” the statement said.
Opposition activists in Uganda have sought to revive street demonstrations against the surging rate of inflation in east Africa’s third biggest economy after the government crushed a wave of protests in April and May, Reuters reports.
Opposition leader Kizza Besigye has been repeatedly arrested and Ugandan officials have accused him of seeking to plunge the country into lawlessness and exploit the unrest to overthrow the government.
The State Department detailed what it said were a number of abuses by Ugandan security forces, including the “pre-emptive” arrest of Besigye and other activists on what it said were questionable treason charges.
“In October, the Ugandan government also urged Parliament to adopt draft legislation severely limiting public meetings of three persons or more,” the State Department said.
“This legislation specifically references meetings where participants discuss government principles, policies, and actions, and appears to target opposition and civil society organizations critical of the government.”
Museveni, one of Africa’s longest serving leaders who has been in power since 1986, was re-elected for a fourth term by a huge margin in February in polls the opposition rejected.
He has nevertheless positioned himself as a Western ally, particularly close to the United States.
Ugandan troops make up the brunt of an African Union peacekeeping force largely responsible for preventing Islamists from taking power in Somalia.
Museveni’s government is also an ally of South Sudan, which officially declared independence from Khartoum in July.
President Barack Obama announced last month that he was sending about 100 U.S. troops to central Africa to help and advise government forces battling rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army who are accused of murder, rape and kidnapping children.
The first U.S. troops — who will serve as trainers and advisers — arrived in Uganda on Wednesday and are expected to be deployed to South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Museveni’s critics have accused him of using the fight against rebels as an excuse to stifle political opposition.
The two-decade insurgency by the rebels has damaged much of northern Uganda’s economic and social infrastructure and the region is much poorer than other parts of the country, which has oil reserves on its border with the Democratic Republic of Congo that are set for commercial production by early 2012.