Uganda’s strict anti-gay legislation has been “blown out of proportion”, according to the new High Commissioner to Malta Dinah Grace Akello.

Long-time Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni faced international criticism for signing a bill last month that strengthened already severe laws against homosexuality.

Asked about the Western response to the laws, Ms Akello said: “I am really not concerned. The West is mature.

“We will see areas where we can collaborate and those areas where we disagree we will disagree.”

Ms Akello was speaking to Times of Malta after presenting her letters of credence to President George Abela at the Palace in Valletta yesterday.

Under Uganda’s new legislation, which enjoys widespread support in the east African country, first-time ‘offenders’ are liable for up to 14 years in jail.

“Aggravated homosexuality” – defined as repeated gay sex between consenting adults as well as same-sex acts involving a minor, a disabled person or while HIV positive – is punishable with a life sentence.

The Bill also criminalises aiding homosexuality, which opponents fear could lead to medical practitioners and counsellors being prosecuted.

Ms Akello traced the anti-gay laws back to the time when Uganda was a British protectorate, and legal punishments were established for “unnatural sex”.

“This [controversy] has just surfaced because there was debate in Parliament; it has been blown out of proportion,” the High Commissioner said.

“We respect every country’s laws. We are not going to prosecute the world [with Uganda laws]. I’m sure the Maltese people will respect other people’s laws like we respect the Maltese laws.”

When it was pointed out that the new Bill is much stricter than what existed before in Uganda, Ms Akello reiterated her call for mutual respect of each other’s laws.

She refused to answer any more questions on the topic.

Critics of the Bill claim that increasingly influential Christian evangelicals from the US are fuelling anti-gay sentiments in Uganda and elsewhere in Africa.

International donors have reacted strongly to the Ugandan legislation and its impact on human rights.

The World Bank, Norway and Denmark have withheld or diverted aid totalling about €80 million, while the US said it was reviewing ties.

Earlier, Ms Akello had said that Uganda was seeking investment from Maltese businessmen in the east African state’s burgeoning tourism industry.

Bordered by Lake Victoria to the south, it is reputedly home to the much-disputed source of the River Nile, and hosts many of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas.

Ms Akello also sought collaboration in agriculture and university and post-graduate education.

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