Armed men burn huts in Apaa land, dozens left homeless

Homeless. Some of the stranded residents of Acholiber Village in Amuru District whose houses were burnt during the eviction exercise on April 8. PHOTO BY BILL OKETCH

Three armed men have reportedly been burning huts and looting food in Acholiber and Punodyang villages, Apaa parish, Paboo Sub-county, Amuru District in the past two weeks.
The trio, armed with guns and machetes is said to have made several raids in the disputed land bordering Adjumani and Amuru districts.

Mr Wilson Acuma, a witness, told Daily Monitor on Monday that in the April 13 attack, the men were donned in Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) outfit.

“That uniform helped us to understand who they were. They again burnt houses before they retreated and camped by a stream,” Mr Acuma said.

He said the following day, the men returned, demanding phones, food and garden tools from victims.

Mr Data Taban Peter, Adjumani Resident District Commissioner, said the attackers were encroachers who were evicted during an operation by Uganda Wildlife Authority on Sunday.

“We investigated and found out that these are fresh encroachers and most of them were there to hunt and trade in game meat because they had spears, arrows, snares, and they are building makeshift [structures],” Mr Taban said.

He also said his security team found out that some intelligence personnel and vigilantes under UWA were looting food from communities, including livestock.

“The information is that UWA has its intelligence groups and vigilantes whom they deploy for operations but once operations are complete, these vigilantes return immediately to the villages after UWA personnel have gone, and take food, chicken and other property,” Mr Taban said.

He said they had deployed the army and intelligence officials to trace the attackers and beef up security in the area.

Mr Bashir Hangi, the UWA spokesperson, said he was not aware of any fresh evictions in Apaa but admitted that rangers were continually evicting encroachers on the land.

“I need to find out, but one of the biggest challenges we face is fresh encroachment and we are not going to tolerate that. Our personnel are on ground to battle fresh encroachment,” Mr Hangi said.

“We want to ensure that no illegal activities continue on that land under UWA since we agreed under the auspices of the OPM (Office of the Prime Minister) that the status quo should remain, meaning that people who survived eviction by the time of agreement are to remain whereas no new encroachment would be tolerated,” he added.

Mr Michael Lakony, the Amuru chairperson, said more than 13 families had been rendered homeless following the attacks.

“We are in lockdown, communities are not supposed to move anywhere but their houses have been razed. These are families with five or six children each and they need to eat but their food has equally been looted,” Mr Lakony said.

He said the district had notified Mr Jacob Oulanyah, the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, who was tasked to find a permanent solution to the Apaa land wrangles.

In 2019, the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Mr Jacob Oulanyah, ordered the cessation of any form of eviction on Apaa land pending further investigation into the disputed land.

Mr Oulanyah said government should stay any eviction so that a better avenue is found to move people outside the conservation area. Despite the orders and warnings, UWA rangers, accompanied by police and Adjumani officials, have several times stormed the area and burnt houses.