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Butcher of uganda dies in exile

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Aug. 17, 2003. 08:11 AM
Butcher of Uganda dies in exile
Ruthless dictator Idi Amin delivered his death sentences with a dismissive sweep of one huge hand. And his murder methods were a

KAMPALA—The Butcher of Uganda is dead.

Idi Amin Dada, the ruthless dictator who ruled this East African nation with a savagery that would make Attila the Hun blush, died yesterday in Saudi Arabia.

He was buried by his family within hours of his death, in keeping with his Muslim faith, in the city of Jeddah, where he'd lived for much of the time since being ousted in 1979. He had been critically ill for weeks, and died from complications due to multiple organ failure.

Amin, 80, the son of a peasant farmer, was born in the small village of Arua near the banks of Uganda's White Nile. He was a goat herd and a Grade 4 dropout.

As with many poor natives in Britain's African empire, Amin turned to the military for a better life. He fought in the British army in Burma in World War II, against the Mau Mau in Kenya, and earned paratroop wings from the Israeli Armed Forces.

By most accounts, Amin's star began to climb dramatically when he pocketed gold and ivory worth some $350,000 with which he was supposed to buy arms for Congolese rebels fighting Gen. Joseph Mobutu. Amin had been carrying out special missions in the Congo against Mobutu on behalf of Uganda's new president, Milton Obote.

Amin curried Obote's friendship, rose in the ranks doing Obote's bidding, then crushed the president in a January, 1971 coup. Fleeing to Tanzania, Obote later returned the favour by ousting Amin in l979.

In the eight years that Amin ruled Uganda, the former goat herd instituted a reign of terror, brutal even by African standards.

An overpowering, 250-pound man who stood 6-foot-6 in stocking feet, Amin delivered death sentences with a dismissive sweep of one huge hand, saying: "Take him away! That is enough!"

The International Commission of Jurists accused Amin of "creating a reign of terror through massive violations of human rights, arbitrary arrests, torture and murder." But that was a mild indictment when compared to the meticulous horror documented in David Martin's book, General Amin.

It was not only the intellectuals and politicians that Amin exterminated. Whole families were wiped out, and often the killing was indiscriminate.

Amin's murder methods were among the most sadistic recorded in history. In 1973, an anti-Amin guerrilla organization, Front for National Salvation, gave this description of what was happening in the country:

"People have been choked with their genitals, their heads bashed in with sledgehammers and gun butts, hacked to pieces with pangas, disembowelled, blown up with explosives, suffocated, burned alive in cars and houses after being tied up, drowned, dragged along roads tied to vehicles, starved to death, whipped to death, gradually dismembered."

The luckier ones were shot and then burned, buried or fed to crocodiles.

Although his takeover was greeted by dancing in the streets of Kampala — Amin released political prisoners, promised elections and vowed "no victimizations or purges" — the bloodletting was not far away.

Under Obote, many Langi and Ancholi tribesmen had been brought into the civil service and armed forces. Within a year of Amin's takeover, an estimated 5,000 had been massacred. Amin cited threats from within the Langi and Ancholi tribes.

In the years that followed, Amin shocked the world with his contradictory statements and actions. He declared himself King of Scotland, banned hippies and miniskirts, and attended a Saudi royal funeral wearing a kilt.

Most of the world laughed, and some leaders suggested he was insane. But for the victims of his rage and terror, there was nothing comic about Amin. "To dismiss him as just plain crazy is to underestimate his ruthless cunning and his capacity to consolidate his power with calculated terror," wrote Christopher Munnion in the New York Times Magazine.

Amin's first wife Mama Maliam, mother of six of his seven children, fled to Britain in 1975 after "two determined attempts" to kill her. She survived a car crash staged by Amin's security forces and quarrelled with Amin when he visited her in hospital. Amin said she'd been injured in the crash "because she was not living a life of sufficient discipline."

The dismembered body of Amin's second wife, Kay, was discovered in a car trunk in 1974 and his third wife, Norah, simply disappeared.

Amin reportedly took a fancy to his fourth official wife, Miss Sarah, when she was singing for one of his army bands. According to former health minister Henry Kyemba, Amin decided he wanted Miss Sarah, so he murdered her boyfriend and married her.

Perhaps the greatest outpouring of Amin's wrath occurred because of his children.

In August, 1976, Amin sent his troops into Uganda's Makerere University, of which Amin was chancellor, where they went on a rampage of killing and rape. Surviving students said soldiers marched onto the campus and started bayoneting and shooting students at random.

"The girls were raped and bayoneted and soldiers cut off their ears and breasts and gave unimaginable inhuman torture," one student recalled. Another 1,000 students were taken to three prisons where soldiers tortured them with clubs, spears, whips and bayonets.

The attack was allegedly prompted when some students asked that Amin's son Taban, who carried a machinegun on campus and was described as "illiterate," be removed from the university. Taban called his father and complained he'd been snubbed by his classmates.

However, Amin also jailed two of his other teenage sons, Abdu and Ali, in November, 1975. He didn't specify the charges against them but said at the time: "It makes no difference they are my children. I have no mercy on evil-doers."

Amin claimed Allah spoke to him in his dreams and told him what to do. He said Allah told him to expel in 1972 the 40,000 Asians who once made up the bulk of Uganda's merchants and tradesmen. Many of the Asians settled in Canada.

Although there were several assassination attempts against him, Amin still drove around Kampala in an open Jeep, sailed Lake Victoria freely, appeared alone in crowds and took occasional dips in the main Kampala Hotel pool.

His contradictions and flamboyant statements made headlines around the world.

He advised former Israeli premier Golda Meir to "pull up her knickers and run" from the Arabs, and once invited himself to visit the Queen, asking her to arrange "for me to meet and exchange views with the non-citizen Asians I booted out of this country..."

In that same message, he told the Queen he hoped "there will be at least during my stay a steady and reliable supply of essential commodities, because I know that your economy is ailing in many respects."

However, the burly dictator could apparently laugh at jokes about himself. One reporter said Amin used to sit "chuckling over Punch (a British humour magazine) parodies of his thickly accented speech."

Once, on a tour of the Nile with a French television team, Amin pointed out some crocodiles on a nearby bank and gave a glimpse of how he saw himself.

"You see that crocodile," he said. "He looks like he is asleep. But he is not. He is waiting. Also, he will not attack you unless he is mad.

"That is like me. I am like that."

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