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Uganda releases former head of Amin's secret police

KAMPALA, Uganda -- The military government of Uganda Tuesday released from jail the head of former dictator Idi Amin's murderous secret police after he agreed to leave the country and return to his native Britain.

'Major' Bob Astles, who was chief of Amin's feared State Research Bureau, or secret police, agreed to renounce his Ugandan citizenship and to seek asylum in Britain.

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The white-haired Astles, 64, sporting a walrus-like mustache, smiled broadly as he strutted the 50 yards from the government prison to the British Embassy in downtown Kampala. He spent the past six years in jail.

'I am free. I will be going back to England around the end of the week but my heart is still in Uganda. I have no regrets for anything,' Astles said, walking arm-in-arm with his Ugandan-born wife, Mary, who served as the minister of culture under the deposed Amin.

But Britain appeared unwilling to accept Astles.

Deputy British High Commissioner Peter Penfold said, 'Britain has no responsibility towards Bob Astles. He is not a British citizen. He is stateless.'

Penfold said Astles reapplied for British citizenship, which he renounced to become an Ugandan in 1973.

'It is under consideration,' he said.

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In London, a spokesman for the Home Office said Astles probably will be allowed to enter the country while his application for restoration of his British citizenship is processed.

Astles, a former sergeant with Britain's Royal Engineers, served as Amin's right-hand man and head of the State Research Bureau until the dictator's downfall in 1979.

The State Research Bureau was responsible for the deaths of more than 1 million Ugandans under Amin's eight-year reign of terror, according to diplomats.

Astles, who also served as Amin's official government spokesman, has denied any connection with the deaths.

Tanzanian troops that invaded Uganda, forcing Amin's downfall, discovered human flesh and bones in refrigerators in the State Research Bureau offices in the capital, and cells splattered with blood and piled high with corpses.

Astles fled the country to Kenya in the wake of the advancing Tanzanian forces but was returned to Uganda to face charges of murdering an Ugandan farmer. He was acquitted of that charge in 1982 but was immediately jailed again as a threat to state security by President Milton Obote.

Obote was overthrown in a military coup this past July and several of Amin's top advisers have been returned to high-ranking posts by the new military regime.

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Astles, once one of the most feared and hated men in Uganda, first came to Uganda, then a British colony in 1952, where he worked as a road engineer.

Once independence came in 1962, Astles started work for Ugandan television but was shunned by the expatriate community who believed he was spying on the British community for the government.

Once Amin overthrew the first Obote regime in 1971, Astles was jailed for two months for spying. But on his release, Amin took a liking to the Briton and named him a personal adviser on 'security matters and British affairs.'

His best known stunt was to set up a photograph of several white men carrying the 300-pound Amin through the streets of Kampala atop their shoulders in a sedan chair.

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