Locals storm illegal loggers’ camp in Zoka, recover timber

An NFA official inspects the recovered timber in Zika Forest Reserve in Adjumani on November 26, 2022  PHOTO/TOBBIAS JOLLY OWINY. 

What you need to know:

  • The residents say they mobilised themselves and conducted a patrol in the forest reserve after hearing sounds of power saws at work. 
  • This publication established that in the open market, while a full-length piece of 2x6 inches hardwood timber costs about Shs25,000, the 2x8 inch piece costs Shs120,000 and a 2x12 inch piece about Shs200,000.

Locals of Ajeri Village in Itirikwa Sub-county, Adjumani District, have recovered at least 1,100 pieces of timber from an illegal logging camp located inside Zoka Central Forest Reserve.
Between November 23 and 26 last week, the locals mobilised themselves and conducted a patrol inside the forest after they allegedly failed to get a response from the National Forestry Authority (NFA) and police, whom they say they had notified about sounds of power saws humming inside the forest.

This publication established that a total of 1,128 pieces of hardwood timber measuring 6x2, 8x2, and 12x2-inch sizes were found at the two camps, whose inhabitants fled the scene once the group approached.
Two power saw machines and other tree-felling equipment were also recovered by the residents, who handed them over to police officers at Ajeri Police Post.

Mr Robert Kenyi, one of the residents who participated in the recovery, said that three days before November 23, they notified police and NFA of suspicious logging activities inside the forest but they felt frustrated after getting no response from the authorities.
“We did not get anyone at the camps except their belongings, power saws and other equipment. We collected what we could and handed it over to police,” Mr Kenyi said.
By Sunday evening, NFA was yet to transport the timber valued at approximately Shs150m from the forest to Adjumani Town for disposal.

Meanwhile, police last Friday arrested two members of the same group and charged them with attempted murder, assault and causing grievous bodily harm after one of the suspected loggers reported to police that he had been assaulted by the residents during their operation. 
Mr William Amanzuru, the team leader at Friends of Zoka, a community pressure group advocating for the preservation of Zoka Central Forest, said the residents were released on police bond on Saturday evening.
At the time of their release, the pair’s charges were amended to robbery, according to a Police Form 18 signed by the officer-in-charge of Criminal Investigations Department at Adjumani Central Police Station.
Mr Amanzuru said the revision of the charges was an indication of possible connivance between the police and the illegal loggers.

“If the complainant was sure he was beaten or the residents attempted to kill him as indicated in the earlier charges, why did the police amend the charges even when the complainant did not have any bodily injury on him? Why did the police fail to arrest the complainant on charges of illegal logging?” he questioned.
Mr Aroise Habumuremyi, the Adjumani officer-in-charge of CID confirmed the arrests but declined to divulge details on grounds that he had not yet been fully briefed by his juniors on ground.
Repeated attempts to seek comments from NFA authorities were futile by press time.