Residents of Kijjabwemi Cell in Masaka City have renewed their demand to have a eucalyptus forest in the area cut down.
They claim the forest, locally known as Kumbu Forest Reserve, is harbouring criminals.
According to residents, the criminals hide in the thick parts of the forest during day and move out at night to attack their targets.
The same forest also houses baboons that allegedly destroy crops and gardens. The baboons enter stalls in nearby makeshift markets to ‘steal’ yellow bananas and other edible items.
Residents claim that the man accused of beheading a toddler recently used the same forest to execute his evil mission.
Last month, Joseph Nuwashaba, a casual labourer, confessed to cutting off the head of five-year-old Faith Kyamagero and was later intercepted at Parliament claiming he was delivering a ‘gift’ to Speaker Rebecca Kadaga.
The deceased was a daughter of Mr Charles Ssenyonga, a local pastor and resident of Kijjabwemi.
Nuwashaba, who is on remand at Masaka prison on murder charges, recently led a team of detectives to the spot near Kumbu Forest, where he committed the crime.
The forest borders Kijjabwemi Cell, old and new Kumbu suburbs on the outskirts of Masaka City.
Ms Alice Namuyimbwa, a resident of Old Kumbu Cell, said the forest has become a den of thieves.
“Our appeal to city authorities is that they should consider cutting down the forest because it is harbouring wild animals and criminals,” Ms Namuyimbwa said during an interview on Wednesday.
“Why should we keep the trees when residents are being mugged and women raped?”She asked.
She said three women have been raped inside the forest in a space of three months.
Ms Suzan Nassolo, a resident of Old Kumbu Cell, said baboons sneak from the forest and invade their homes.
“We started informing the authorities about the baboons in 2019, but no action has been taken and they have increased in number,” she said.
Ms Nassolo said only a team from the district vermin control office went to the area but did not capture the baboons.
“The only solution we have now is to cut down the forest since it doesn’t have the much priced and durable indigenous trees such as mvule and mahogany,” she said.
Mr Henry Kimuli, an environment activist in Masaka, castigated residents who want the 120-acre forest destroyed, saying they are misguided.
“Those people do not know what they are talking about, that forest is the catchment area for Nabajjuzi wetland, which is the only source of water for Masaka City and neighbouring areas and its removal may spark off an irreversible ecological disaster in the area,” he said.
“Unless they are going to destroy them completely. Eucalyptus trees at that stage have consumed a lot of water, so cutting them down will expose the soil to erosion, winds and death of foraging pollinators and other livelihood of other living things,” Mr Kimuli said.
He said there could be some powerful people using the residents to demand the cutting down of the forest and get wood for their selfish gains.
Mr Matia Kakooza, the Kimaanya–Kyabakuza Division chairperson, said a section of residents have already approached his office demanding the removal of the forest.
“We instituted a committee to collect views from residents and 80 per cent of them said they want the forest removed. So, we have forwarded the report to area Members of Parliament for further discussion because the forest is becoming a security threat,” Mr Kakooza said.
He added: “It [forest] has always served as a water catchment area for National Water and Sewerage Corporation treatment plant, but plans are already underway to start pumping water from Lake Victoria.”
In 2015, the then Masaka Municipal councillors passed a resolution sanctioning the giveaway of the forest reserve after their allowances were withheld for several months although some councillors objected to the deal.