Page last updated at 12:24 GMT, Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Uganda's Kasubi royal tombs gutted by fire


There was anger after the military began moving loyalists away from the area

The tombs of four Ugandan regional kings have been wrecked by fire, sparking protests and claims of arson.

Thousands of people poured on to the streets of Kampala and eyewitnesses said at least one person was killed after security forces opened fire.

Police denied anyone had been hurt and said the cause of the fire was unknown.

The Unesco-listed site housed tombs of kings of the Buganda region. The kingdom has had uneasy relations with the central government recently.

A dispute over territory between King Ronald Mutebi and President Yoweri Museveni led to mass riots late last year.

Eyewitnesses say Mr Museveni tried to visit the Kasubi tombs near Kampala to see the extent of the fire damage, but supporters of the king blocked his convoy.

Shots fired

The BBC's Joshua Mmali, at the scene of the fire, says people have been mourning the loss of the monuments.

The fire in Kasubi
Police are investigating the cause of the fire

He says the tombs are revered among some people in the Buganda region as a symbol of what had traditionally belonged to their kingdom.

The tomb's custodian, Fred Mukasa, described it as a sad loss for the whole kingdom.

"We have lost our treasured culture, this is the origin of all the Buganda culture, this is where our ancestors are buried."

Police chief Maj Gen Kale Kayihura told AFP news agency that the emergency services had been "obstructed by a hostile crowd" when they arrived at the scene.

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This relationship between President Museveni's government and Buganda Kingdom is far from rosy and this has already given fertile ground for many to think there was some foulplay. Many people seem to expect riots... We only hope there will be a thorough investigation... and that no people will lose their lives and property.

"Faced with this hostility and in an effort to stop the fire from destroying the tombs, the officer fired some shots in the air to disperse the crowd but no-one was hurt," he said.

An eyewitness told the BBC the situation in Kampala was now calm and troops had withdrawn.

King Ronald has visited the scene and announced a week of mourning.

Buganda regional official Charles Peter Mayiga said the kingdom's leadership would also try to establish what had caused the fire.

"There are people who want to cause harm to this kingdom. They are keen on destabilising us and we don't know whether they're behind this," Reuters quoted him as saying.

Buganda is the largest of Uganda's four ancient kingdoms.

They were abolished in 1966 but reinstated by Mr Museveni's government in 1993.

However, he restored them only as cultural institutions with no political power.

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