UGANDA: Amin:The Wild Man of Africa

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The message largely confirmed what Washington had suspected: Amin's anger had been sparked by Jimmy Carter's harsh press conference comment, which was bound to provoke Amin. It also seemed to imply that Amin was up to his old trick of blackmailing foreign powers into taking him seriously. Last year he restricted the movement of the several hundred Britons in Uganda after London broke off diplomatic relations with Kampala. Amin forbade the British residents to leave the country until they had met him and submitted a memorandum on how well they had been treated. They did so, and soon Amin was again expressing his love for Britain and his devotion to Queen Elizabeth II.

Still later Friday, Washington received reports from Kampala that Amin was planning to turn this week's command performance into a sort of July 4 barbecue. By this week, Big Daddy might even be proclaiming, as he has done in the past, "I love the Americans. They are my best friends." He might be admonishing Jimmy Carter to "pull up his socks"—a bit of advice he once gave the Queen of England.

Ancient Kingdoms. But even if the Americans emerge unharmed, the fact remains that Amin is an outrage to the world and a scourge to his own country. The tales of refugees escaping across the border into Kenya and Tanzania varied widely in details but hewed to a common theme: the Moslem Amin had ordered the killing of hundreds if not thousands of Ugandan Christians, who number about 7 million in a country of 11.6 million. His action was painfully reminiscent of the stories of the "Uganda martyrs," a group of about 200 Christian converts who were persecuted and put to death in the 1880s by King Mwanga, ruler of Buganda, the largest of Uganda's four ancient tribal kingdoms. In 1964, 22 of the martyrs were canonized by the Roman Catholic Church.

More specifically, according to refugees, Amin was determined to annihilate two tribes, the Acholi and the Langi, both of which are predominantly Christian. These tribes formed the power base of President Apolo Milton Obote, whom Amin ousted in a military coup in 1971, and Amin regards them as his mortal enemies.

The evidence of Amin's frenzied campaign was painfully clear. For 30 minutes one night last week, the sound of machine-gun fire reverberated from the fetid confines of Mugire prison, one of three sites in Kampala to which Amin's troops had herded members of the opposing tribes. One refugee who arrived in Kenya last week reported that "hundreds of soldiers and civilians" were murdered in the prison while he was there. He saw truckloads of troops, presumably Acholi and Langi, being brought into the prison and being stuffed into cells. He said that he heard no shots, and speculates that strangulation or sledgehammering was used to depopulate the cells neighboring his own. "You would hear a short cry and then sudden silence," he said. "I think they were being strangled and then had their heads smashed. Next day the floors of rooms C and D—the elimination chambers —were littered with loose eyes and teeth . . . I was forced to load battered bodies of my cellmates into lorries."

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