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Ugandan Soldiers Executed in Priest's Murder - 2002-03-26

The Ugandan army announced Tuesday that two soldiers had been publicly executed by a firing squad for the murder of an Irish priest. It is Uganda's first public execution in more than 15 years.

The soldiers - a corporal and a private - were tied to trees, blindfolded and shot to death by a firing squad in the town of Kotido in northeastern Uganda, about 350 kilometers from the capital. About 1,000 people watched the executions on Monday evening.

The soldiers had confessed to a court martial hearing that they murdered Father Declan O'Toole, his driver and another passenger on a road in Kotido district last Thursday.

Army spokesman Major Shaban Bantariza says the soldiers intended to rob their victims but were interrupted before they could take very much.

"According to the confession [given] by the soldiers themselves, the motive was material," he said. "They just wanted to get some material things from the priest. They boys said that when they were trying to take whatever they could find they heard the zoom of a vehicle coming because it was on the road so they just ran away."

All the killers managed to escape with was a plastic bag containing a few bananas. Father O'Toole's watch and wallet were left behind.

However, colleagues of Father O'Toole do not believe that robbery was the reason for his death.

Father Joseph Jones, a Dublin-based colleague of the murdered priest, told Irish radio that senior officers in the Ugandan army may have been to blame for the killings. He said that earlier this month the priest was attacked by government troops after he accused soldiers in the region of beating civilians and using excessive force in disarming local cattle herders.

But Major Bantariza dismisses any government role in the killings.

"That cannot be true because if that were to be true the murder would not have been done by these two soldiers because these [were] two small soldiers," he said, adding "they would even have mentioned those who gave them the instructions to do that on their behalf. But these were simply boys who confessed that they wanted material things from the priest."

The region where the murders occurred, Karamoja, is considered one of the most lawless in the country. After he was beaten earlier this month, Father O'Toole left the area, but he returned after receiving assurances from the government that it was safe for him to go back.