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Detained journalist’s Garang remarks could have started genocide - minister

8/14/2005 9:12pm

KAMPALA, Aug 14 (AFP) — Uganda on Sunday defended its arrest last week of journalist for comments about the death of Sudanese vice president and ex-rebel leader John Garang, saying the remarks could have led to genocide.

Information Minister Nsaba Buturo said editor and radio talk-show host Andrew Mwenda, who has been arrested for sedition, had compromised national and regional security by airing conspiracy theories about Garang’s demise.

"Strong comments from Andrew Mwenda were made at the height of great tension inside the Sudan which had already led to death of hundreds of people," Buturo said explaining Mwenda’s Friday arrest and the closure of KFM, the privately owned radio station that airs his program, a day earlier.

"Everybody remembers what happened in Rwanda in 1994," he said in a statement, referring to the genocide in which some 800,000 people, mainly minority Tutsis, were slaughtered by Hutu extremists.

"Inflammatory statements on Radio Mille Collines led to the death of Belgian nationals and hundreds of thousands of Rwandese," Buturo said. "Neither KFM nor any other radio should ever be used in this way."

Mwenda was arrested and KFM ordered off the air by Uganda’s media council after President Yoweri Museveni threatened on Wednesday to shut down any news outlet that reports conspiracy theories about Garang’s death.

The moves have drawn strong domestic and international condemnation from press freedom activists.

Garang died on July 30 when Museveni’s presidential helicopter that was flying him back to southern Sudan from Uganda crashed in what most have said was an accident due to poor weather, darkness and possible pilot error.

But suspicion over the facts surrounding his death sparked days of riots and deadly clashes in Sudan, prompting the Sudanese government to form a national committee to investigate the crash with international experts.

The Ugandan media has been awash with conspiracy theories with some reports saying Garang’s body was riddled with bullets when recovered from the wreckage and others suggesting the crash was the work of saboteurs from Rwanda.

Ironically, it was Museveni himself who was the first public official to suggest the crash was anything other than accident, saying the cause was unclear and might have been the result of an "external factor."

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