KAMPALA Uganda's main opposition coalition on Tuesday accused the government of recruiting a large militia to intimidate the opposition in February elections, a charge the police denied.
The east African country's police said it had only hired people to help with community policing in the region, not an armed militia to get involved with the polls which are seen as a test of democracy for the country.
Analysts expect President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power for almost 25 years, to be returned to office. The government says that is because of his development achievements but the opposition says it does not expect a fair poll.
"(We) would like to draw the attention of Ugandans and the entire world to the continued unprecedented, unlawful recruitment, training and deployment of militia in different places in the country," the four-party opposition coalition, Inter-Party Cooperation (IPC), said in a statement.
The IPC said that 29,000 young people had been recruited by the police as "village crime fighters" in Ntungamo.
Uganda's police force numbers 38,000.
"This force is certainly created to give mileage to the first lady in terms of votes but also to intimidate the opposition in the area," the IPC said, referring to the president's wife, Janet Museveni, running for a parliamentary seat in the area.
The IPC -- seen by analysts as the main poll threat to the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) -- said it had evidence of recruitment in other areas.
Police spokesman, Vincent Ssekate, said the police had only recruited 884 "crime preventers" for community policing.
"Crime preventers are an essential part of community policing and it's not the first time the police has mobilized the public against crime," Ssekate told Reuters.
"They are drawn from all walks of life regardless of age or political affiliation. They are not undergoing military training. They are not going to be armed."
Museveni, a former cattle herder and student activist has been in power since 1986, during which time Uganda's economy -- the third largest in east Africa -- has expanded and the discovery of oil has boosted foreign investor interest.
Political analysts say Museveni, whose share of the vote has dwindled at each of the last three elections amid allegations of increased rigging, could face his stiffest challenge yet if the opposition coalition holds together.
The February 18 poll will be closely watched for signs of repression and instability by Western donors and by foreign investors eyeing the fledgling oil industry. The country's last elections in 2006 were marred by violence.