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Saturday, August 16, 2003


Ugandan Dictator Amin Dies in Saudi Hospital

Sat August 16, 2003 06:43 AM ET

By Paul Busharizi
KAMPALA (Reuters) - Former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, blamed for the murder of tens of thousands of his people in the 1970s, died on Saturday in a Saudi hospital where he had been critically ill for weeks.

"We can confirm that Mr. Idi Amin has died from complications due to multiple organ failure," said a senior source at King Faisal Specialist Hospital in the Red Sea city of Jeddah.

One of Africa's bloodiest despots, Amin had lived in exile, chiefly in Saudi Arabia, since being ousted in 1979. He was in his late 70s.

The Ugandan embassy in the kingdom would not comment on Amin's death, referring all queries to his family. Amin's family in Jeddah also declined to comment and it was not immediately clear what would happen to his body.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has said that if Amin died abroad, his body could be taken home for burial, but officials ruled out any suggestion of a state funeral.

"Nobody will stand in the way of the family returning Amin's body to Uganda," said John Nagenda, Museveni's adviser on media relations, told Reuters in Kampala on Saturday. "It can be brought back and buried privately."

A man who expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler, Amin was denounced inside and outside Africa for massacring tens of thousands of people -- some estimates say more than 100,000 -- under his 1971-79 rule and expelling thousands of Asians.

Ugandans reacted to his death with a mixture of relief at the demise of a tyrant, tinged with nostalgia for a leader who many Ugandans applauded for expelling the Asians who dominated much of the economy in 1972.

"I'm not happy, because Amin was for the local people. I have been praying that he would come back one day and become president again," said Mary Kimeme, 80, a grandmother preparing beans and bananas in her kitchen in Kampala. "I miss him."

One of Amin's sons, Ali Amin, told Reuters in Kampala that family members in Uganda were meeting to discuss arrangements, but declined to comment on where the burial would take place.


A former boxing champion, Amin came to power in a 1971 coup and his rule was characterized by eccentric behavior and violent purges.

Amin was a ruthless dictator who, the International Commission of Jurists said in 1977, had violated every fundamental human right during a "reign of terror."

Exiles accused him of having kept severed heads in the fridge, feeding corpses to crocodiles and having one of his wives dismembered. Some said he practiced cannibalism.

In 1972 he expelled some 40,000 Asians, saying God had told him to transform Uganda into "a black man's country."

He himself was driven from Uganda in 1979 by forces from neighboring Tanzania and Ugandan exiles. Saudi Arabia gave him sanctuary in the name of Islamic charity.

A Muslim, Amin had lived quietly in exile in Jeddah on a government stipend with four wives.

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, a Ugandan-Asian newspaper columnist whose family was among those Amin expelled, said the Saudis should have brought him to justice.

"I think it is a disgrace that Saudi Arabia gave him the kind of life they did and the excuse is he was a Muslim. They should have delivered him into the hands of international justice and they never did," she told Britain's Sky television.

Amin was born in 1925, according to most sources, to a peasant family of the small, predominantly Muslim Kakwa tribe at Arua, in Uganda's remote West Nile district.

A large and imposing figure who reveled in publicity, Amin's eccentric behavior created the image of a buffoon given to erratic outbursts and bloodlust. His whimsical and savage rule shocked and revolted the world.

He declared himself King of Scotland, banned hippies and mini-skirts, and appeared at a royal Saudi Arabian funeral in 1975 wearing a kilt.

In a rare interview in 1999, Amin told a Ugandan newspaper he liked to play the accordion and recite from the Koran. He said most of his food, including fresh cassava and millet flour, still came from Uganda.

(With additional reporting by John R. Bradley in Jeddah and Miral Fahmy in Dubai)


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