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Uganda police fail to protect women as murders continue

By Reuters | 2017-09-08 11:31:32.0

A spate of unsolved murders of young women in Uganda is putting rare public pressure on a police force long-accused by the country's opposition politicians of spending more time suppressing political dissent than tackling crime.

Widespread media coverage of the appearance of 20 corpses on roadsides south of the capital, Kampala, since May, reflects public anger with police for repeatedly saying they have arrested the perpetrators, only for another body to be discovered.

"It's terrifying," said Susan Kabul, 29, standing near the garbage-littered bank of a drainage channel where the latest murder victim was discovered. "The police need to tell us who is slaughtering people like this."

The police say they have arrested 30 suspects and charged 13 of them, listing possible motives ranging from domestic rows through sexual abuse to ritual murder linked to human sacrifice.

"Ritual killing is one of the motives that we suspect. We also think there might be cases of jilted lovers," police spokesman Asan Kasingye said.

"Other theories might come up as investigations progress."

There have been occasional individual cases of alleged ritual murder in the east African nation, but this is the first time there has been such a large number of people killed in similar circumstances in the same area. In a nod to the public outrage, lawmakers stopped work for two days this week after the 20th body was found, saying ministers had failed to appear before the legislature over the killings in three districts on the outer edge of Kampala.

Government spokesman Ofwono Opondo accused them of populism.

"They spoke as if the government is doing [something]," he said. "They should leave police to work without pressure."

The legislature is dominated by supporters of President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power since 1986.

The constitution was changed in 2005 to remove a two-term limit, allowing him to extend his rule. His son is a major general and powerful presidential adviser.

Opposition leader Kizza Besigye, who contends that Museveni stole his victory in last year's election, has been charged with treason.

The opposition and rights activists have long accused security forces of neglecting crime to focus on political control.

"Police can't secure women in a small area - all the attention is on politics, on who is criticising Museveni," said Sarah Birete of the Centre for Constitutional Governance.

Uganda is ranked among the world's most corrupt countries by watchdog Transparency International. The government's inspector general said in a 2014 report that the police force was "the most corrupt public institution in the country".

In Wakiso, south of Kampala, where most of the bodies have been found, few residents believe the killings will stop.

"I have stopped moving about at night. He could be a serial killer," said Deo Busulwa, who lives close to where the latest grisly discovery, of mother-of-two Maria Nabilawa, was made.