33 jailed in crackdown on forest encroachers

Police and NFA officials tour part of Mt Kei Central Forest Reserve, which was cleared for farming by the  encroachers on Wednesday. PHOTO | RASHUL ADIDI

What you need to know:

  • The suspects appeared before Koboko Grade One Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday presided over by Mr Peter Gukiina.

Two people have been sentenced to six months in prison for encroaching on Mount Kei Central Forest Reserve on the border between South Sudan,  Koboko and Yumbe districts.

Thirty-one others were charged with carrying out prohibited activities in the forest and remanded until June 24.

The suspects appeared before Koboko Grade One Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday presided over by Mr Peter Gukiina.
The two suspects pleaded guilty to the charges but the others denied them.
The 33 were arrested during a three-day operation led by the National Forestry Authority (NFA), Police and UPDF.

Those arrested were found cultivating, burning charcoal and cutting down trees for poles and firewood in the forest.
Mr Samuel Abwang, the Koboko District Police Commander, led the operation.

“Most of these people we arrested were got farming, cutting down trees and burning charcoal in the forest contrary to Section 32 of the National Forest and Tree Planting Act,” he said.

Mr Abwang said the eviction notice was issued on February 12 but many did not heed the call and this forced NFA to issue another one, which expired on April 12.

The police commander, however, expressed frustration with local politicians, whom he said were siding with the encroachers to block the eviction.

Last month, Daily Monitor reported that some families who were settled in the forest were resisting eviction because they did not have alternative land for resettlement.

The NFA range manager for West Nile, Mr Robert Owiny, said after the operation, they have managed to recover eight of the 25 hectares of the forest land.

“We are still continuing with this operation for the whole of this month until we recover all the total area lost. And we want the people to comply peacefully without force,” he said.

Mount Kei central forest reserve, the largest in West Nile with 4,689 hectares, was gazetted in 1938 to help in protecting diversity, different animal species such as  white rhinos and gorillas, and tree species, including Afzelia Africana, Shea nut and mahogany.

However, with human activities, more than 25 hectares of the forest reserve have been encroached on and degraded.