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Former Ugandan Presidential Candidate Missing - 2001-08-22

Ugandan security officials are searching for former Ugandan presidential candidate Kizza Besigye. He has been missing since Friday following rumors that he was about to be arrested for treason. The former soldier could be charged with desertion.

Colonel Besigye's wife, Winnie Byanyima, says she last saw him on Friday night. Ms Byanyima says he called her the following day saying that he was hiding from Ugandan security forces who he said planned to arrest him for treason.

"He told me he was hiding from the security agency people," Ms. Byanyima said. "That they were looking for him and wanted to accuse him falsely of some crimes against the state. Some people sympathetic to him and working within the security agencies were leaking information to him. It was very false but highly sensitive. Suggesting that he was working with subversives against the state and yet he was not. And there were rumors that he and several others were about to be arrested and to be charged with treason, which is an offense that carries the death penalty in Uganda."

Mr. Besigye was President Yoweri Museveni's main challenger in the March presidential elections. The two men were once close friends, having fought side by side to overthrow Uganda's previous ruler, Milton Obote, in 1986. Mr. Besigye was also Mr. Museveni's personal physician.

Analysts say President Museveni viewed Mr. Besigye's decision to run for the presidency as something of a betrayal.

Mr. Besigye criticized President Museveni's one party movement system as undemocratic and pledged, if elected, to work towards the restoration of multi-party democracy.

Since the elections, Mr. Besigye has been prevented from leaving the country on the grounds that he was linked to a series of bomb attacks that followed the elections.

Ms. Byanyima says that security men were always following her husband. "He was constantly being followed by security men in their cars and where ever he'd park they'd park. They'd be surveying our house throughout the day and the night and he was simply not a free man," she said. "He took the matter to the Uganda Human Rights Commission and the chief of military intelligence gave some reasons why they were restricting his travel and following him all over the place. That he's a former soldier, that he's therefore very knowledgeable about security and can be a security risk and that he mobilized a lot of support from veterans in the last election.

Ugandan army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Phinehas Katirima says the army is not holding Mr. Besigye and does not know where he is. Colonel Katirima says Ugandan government statutes require all reserve force soldiers to seek permission to travel abroad. He says Mr. Besigye will be charged with desertion if he does not reappear within 21 days.