UGANDA, Lira | Real Muloodi News | Residents in Lira City West Division, have raised serious concerns over the National Forestry Authority’s (NFA) alleged deployment of soldiers on a disputed piece of land, preventing them from accessing their own property.
The contested land, spanning 339 hectares, has been at the centre of a dispute between the residents of Anai and Barapwo wards and the NFA since 2006.
The situation escalated in June when the High Court in Lira issued a temporary injunction restraining the NFA from evicting the residents until the main suit is resolved, allowing them to continue farming on the land.
However, recent incidents have led to accusations of harassment and violence by deployed soldiers.
During a meeting with Justice Godfrey Ssalaamu Ngobi, an assistant registrar at Lira High Court, and other judicial officers who visited the disputed land to assess the damages caused by the NFA agents at Olaka Annex Primary School, the residents expressed their grievances.
Mr Celestino Otim Obwol, an 88-year-old resident, reported that NFA officials exhumed the bodies of his children and grandchildren buried on the disputed land in Ongica ‘B’.
Another resident, Mr Richard Otto, recounted being arrested and harassed by soldiers after they found him cultivating his garden.
Moses Ayo, who represented the residents in the lawsuit against NFA, disclosed that he, too, faced arrest by the soldiers while tending to his crops.
He claimed that the soldiers denied any knowledge of the court injunction allowing the community to continue cultivating the land.
Emmanuel Egaru Omiat, the residents’ lawyer, expressed frustration at NFA’s actions, stating that the organisation was allowing developers to uproot crops despite the court order.
NFA’s Response and Justice Ngobi’s Intervention
In response to the allegations, Sam Blick Okello, the lawyer representing NFA, denied any knowledge of harassment by soldiers and stated that the organisation was planting trees on empty plots.
Justice Ngobi promised to address the issues raised and hold discussions with relevant authorities to ensure that top UPDF commanders rein in the alleged misconduct of soldiers.
The spokesperson of the UPDF Fifth Division, Maj Stephen Tumwesigye, claimed not to be aware of the soldiers’ deployment when contacted for comment.
Ms Grace Aguti, the NFA sector manager for Lango Sub-region, declined to comment and referred the matter to the lawyer.
Ms Juliet Kamuli, the NFA spokesperson, acknowledged the issue but requested more time to provide further details.
For over a decade, the residents of 1,940 households residing on the disputed land have contested the NFA’s impending eviction.
The residents argue that they have customary ownership of the land, while the NFA maintains that the territory falls under forest reserve status.
The dispute also affects two government primary schools, Olaka and Olaka Annex, located in Anai Ward within part of the disputed land, which also faces potential eviction.
READ MORE LIKE THIS: