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HindustanTimes Fri,29 Aug 2014

Race and Rancour

Uganda promises security to Indians
IANS
Kampala/New Delhi, April 13, 2007
First Published: 14:41 IST(13/4/2007)
Last Updated: 16:16 IST(20/4/2007)
Protestors burn a two-wheeler owned by a man of Asian origin along the main Kampala-Entebbe road on April 12, 2007. A mob stoned to death an Asian man in Uganda on Thursday and two other people were killed during a protest over a plan to cut down nearly a third of a rainforest reserve to grow sugarcane, police and witnesses said. Troops in several armoured cars were deployed in central Kampala after police fired tear gas and live rounds to stop rioters attacking Asian businesses and a Hindu temple, angered by moves to expand an Indian-owned company's sugar plantations.

Two days after an Indian was killed by a mob protesting an Indian sugar firm's plan to develop part of a protected rainforest, most frightened Indians in the Ugandan capital on Saturday stayed indoors despite President Yoweri Museveni assuring them of their safety.

In New Delhi, Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma said Saturday that India was keeping a close watch on the situation and said that it has taken up the issue of Indians' safety with the Ugandan government.

The body of Devang Rawal, who was stoned to death by rioters in Kampala, is likely to be flown to his hometown Ahmedabad later Saturday.

"Uganda Funeral Services is preparing the body to be flown to India," said Rajni Taylor, who heads the Ugandan Indian Association, adding that his employers were supervising the burial arrangements.

Rawal was working as a sales representative with Translink (U) Ltd, a company importing products of Johnson & Johnson and Nestle products.

Officials from the Indian High Commission on Thursday evening visited Mulago Hospital mortuary where the body of Rawal was being kept.

"To attack, insult or damage the property of any Ugandan or guests of Uganda is something the government will not tolerate," Museveni said in a statement Friday.

"I want to assure Ugandans that such hooliganism will not be allowed to happen again, and to warn those that do not want to follow the law they will pay heavily," Museveni added.

Many Indian-owned shops were closed in Kampala and many Indians decided to stay home and not send their children to school.

Knowing the sensitivity of such attacks and its possible impact on the Ugandan economy in which Indians, mostly traders, play a key role, the police swung into action and has identified those responsible for rioting and looting that hit the city Thursday.

For Indians living there for generations, Thursday's mob attack that included Indians being dragged off motorbikes and beaten, their shops looted and a Hindu temple attacked, it was an eerie recall of virulent anti-India bashing by former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin who expelled nearly 75,000 Asians in 1972.

The rioting mob was protesting the move by The Sugar Corporation of Uganda Limited (SCOUL), part of the Indian-owned Mehta group, to expand its sugar estates by cutting the Mabira rain forest- one of Uganda's last remaining patches of natural forest. It has been a nature reserve since 1932.

Troops had to be deployed to control the situation, after police failed to stop rioters attacking Asian businesses.

Shangu Patel of the Indian Association went around the city Friday encouraging Asians to reopen their shops but his efforts were met with scepticism, the online edition of New Vision reported.

"How can we be very sure that there will be no repeat?" asked a local Indian shopkeeper.

The controversy began last year when the Ugandan government ordered a study whether to cut down nearly a third of Mabira- one of Uganda's last remaining patches of natural forest.

The government's proposal had angered many in the country who alleged that the environmental costs of slashing the forest would far exceed the economic benefits of the plantation.

Until 1972, Asians constituted the largest non-indigenous ethnic group in Uganda.


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