What you need to know:
- The residents say the soldiers are barring them from accessing the land despite a court injunction allowing them to continue growing crops on the land.
Residents in Lira City West Division, Lira City have accused the National Forestry Authority (NFA) of deploying soldiers on a disputed piece of land to prevent them from accessing it.
The residents in Anai and Barapwo wards have been embroiled in a dispute over ownership of the 339 hectare piece of land with the NFA since 2006.
The High Court in Lira on June 1 stopped NFA from evicting the residents until the disposal of the main suit. The temporary injunction also allows the community to continue growing crops on the land.
In his ruling, Lira High Court assistant registrar Justice Godfrey Ssalaamu Ngobi asked the community not to open new land for farming but told them to continue farming on the land they were already cultivating by the time of the court injunction.
“The respondent is hereby restrained from evicting, harassing or intimidating the applicants in occupying their respective portions of the disputed land,” he said
However, during a meeting with Justice Ngobi and other judicial officers who visited the disputed land to assess the destruction caused by the NFA agents at Olaka Annex Primary School on Monday, the residents said NFA deployed soldiers on the land, who are allegedly harassing and torturing them.
Mr Celestino Otim Obwol, 88, said the bodies of his children and grandchildren, which were buried on the disputed land in Ongica ‘B’, were recently exhumed by NFA officials.
Mr Richard Otto, a resident of Te-dam Cell, said he was arrested on Friday last week after two soldiers found him digging in his garden.
“They demanded for Shs150,000 to release me but I had no money. So, they caned me and ordered me not to step in my garden again,” he said.
Mr Moses Ayo, who sued NFA on behalf of the residents facing eviction, said he was also arrested by the soldiers who found him weeding his crops.
“They told me that they are not aware of any court injunction allowing us to continue digging in our gardens and warned me that if they get me again in my garden I would be shot dead,” Mr Ayo said.
The lawyer representing the residents, Mr Emmanuel Egaru Omiat, said: “There is a court injunction in place, but NFA is going ahead and making the so-called developers uproot people’s crops.”
However, Mr Sam Blick Okello, the lawyer representing the NFA, denied the allegations, saying the organisation is planting trees on empty plots of land.
Justice Ngobi said he would meet the relevant authorities to discuss the issues raised to ensure that the top commanders of UPDF rein in the errant soldiers.
“I have come here to assess the extent of damage done to your crops and find out why NFA is not respecting the court injunction. I am going to file my report and submit it to the resident judge for action,” Justice Ngobi said.
When contacted on Wednesday, the spokesperson of the UPDF Fifth Division, Maj Stephen Tumwesigye, said he was not aware of the soldiers’ deployment.
Ms Grace Aguti, the NFA sector manager for Lango Sub-region, who attended the meeting, declined to comment on the matter and referred this reporter to the lawyer.
Ms Juliet Kamuli, the NFA spokesperson, said she was aware of the matter but asked for more time to get the details.
Since 2006, residents in 1,940 households living on the contested piece of land have been opposing impending eviction by NFA. They argue that they own the land under customary ownership but NFA says the disputed territory is a forest reserve.
Two government primary schools, Olaka and Olaka Annex, all located in Anai Ward on part of the disputed land, also face eviction.