by Lokwiya Francis, Project Officer LCMP Amuru/Nwoya Districts
It has been reported to ARLPI that a Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) detachment from Adjumani district, in a three day eviction exercise, recently demolished over 1,032 huts and wrought uncountable destruction on household property, crops, and animals of thousands of Apaa residents. According to sources, the operation left some 4,491 households homeless. According to Mr. Ogik Save, the area councilor for Apaa parish, about sixty game rangers, headed by Obwona Julius, arrived in a UWA truck with the registration number UG 0195T. Blowing whistles and ululating, they purportedly jumped upon and demolished huts, one after another from Paminano via Patika to Apaa center. Once there, the detachments’ destructive actions were stopped by the LCIII of Pabbo sub-county. Numerous crops including banana, cassava, maize, groundnut, cabbage, and passion fruit were reportedly destroyed by the UWA personnel. During this operation, it has also been reported to ARLPI, that these same UWA personnel engaged in looting activity and killed a bull in Pwunu Dyang village.
Additionally, UWA officials reportedly arrested two children, 17 year olds Adokorach Christine and Ochen Martine, on 18th May, 2011 and took them to Ajeri Adjumani Police post. The girls remained in custody until May 24th when Mr. Okot Justino, the LCI of Apaa, intervened on their behalf.
According to the LCI of Apaa, the evicted individuals can trace their residency in the area back to 1973. It was not until 2002 that residents first began hearing rumors that their land belonged to the UWA. Wholesale displacement of the residents occurred during the conflict years but upon their return to the land in 2006, after leaving Pabbo IDP camp, no complaints were heard from the UWA.
A team of ARLPI staff traveled to the region on May 26th to conduct a fact finding mission and address the evicted residents in hopes of cooling their inflamed tempers. The ARLPI staff was accompanied by the Pabbo sub county chairperson who, in his address to the victims, urged residents to remain calm and return to their land while his office arranged humanitarian assistance for them. The Chairperson also urged the community to protect themselves from the UWA. “We have no problems with Adjumani but if the UWA comes back here, be ready to die for your land.” He additionally pledged that the matter would be taken to court and that all property destroyed would be compensated.
According to the LCI and Area councilor for Apaa, the scene was also visited by the DPC for Amuru District, Colonel Acoka as well as Kilak Woman MP. All of these officials consoled and comforted the community and urged them to return to their land while the matter gets sorted out with the UWA and the Ministry of Tourism.
On two occasions the UWA has stated over radio Mega FM that the land in question rightfully belongs to East Madi and was gazetted in 2001 for a game reserve. At least one UWA official has claimed that the residents of Apaa were informed of the illegality of their settlement a long time ago and ordered to leave the area but have instead turned deaf ears to the authorities’ demands. This same official warned residents not to return to the disputed land, as the UWA will be returning in order to ensure that the land is vacated. He denied rumors that the UWA looted property during the Apaa eviction operation.
In a related development, the Amuru district Chairperson praised key stakeholders handling land conflict in Amuru district during a recent meeting convened by the office of the Chief Administrative Officer. Stakeholders represented included ARLPI, Uganda Human Rights Commission, RALNAC, Justice and Peace Commission, Uganda Land Alliance, and NRC ICLA. The District Chairman thanked the stakeholders for their tireless intervention in resolving land disputes within the area and urged them to continue their important work. “Let us stop the blame game and finger pointing and work together to resolve the Apaa conflict once and for all,” the District Chairperson said. He also informed stakeholders that higher level negotiations with area MPs, Adjumani and Kampala UWA officials, as well as the Ministry of Tourism are currently underway in hopes of resolving the Apaa conflict amicably. Current efforts, however, fall under the shadow of the 2006-2010 failed attempts, by the previous Amuru district Local Government, to resolve the matter.ARLPI urgently calls on the affected districts’ leadership and relevant UWA officials to settle this conflict in an immediate, peaceful manner and to remain mindful of the effects this dispute visits upon evictees, especially women and children. To ARLPI, what is of paramount importance at this moment is not the boundary issue, but the plight of the many evictees. Whether Acholi or Madi, each individual has a right to be treated with human dignity and respect.