The National Forestry Authority burnt seven houses and arrested six people in Era Forest Central Reserve in Aluru Sub-county in Moyo District during a two-day eviction.
The alleged encroachers are accused of depleting trees for charcoal, firewood, timber, and turning major parts of the forest into farms.
The NFA officials said they carried out the exercise because the encroachers did not heed to their notice to vacate.
Mr Daniel Comboni, the NFA forest supervisor, told Daily Monitor on Wednesday that the suspects were cultivating in the forest.
“We are mandated to manage central forest reserves across the country. That is why we are enforcing the law. Last year around October, we had planted hectares of bamboo species in partnership with [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] as an initiative to restore degraded area. But people destroyed what we had planted for their cultivation,” he said.
Mr Comboni said the encroachers were resisting eviction on grounds that they do not have alternative land for settlement.
However, the local leaders accused NFA officials and police of acting in an inhuman manner.
“What we have witnessed is uncalled for. Even if someone has done wrong things to you or to an institution, you can’t burn their houses. This is abuse of human rights,” the workers’ councillor, the Rev Dominic Tiondi, said.
He added that the eviction was carried out at a wrong time.
“Where do you expect people to go during this lockdown when many families are poor and cannot even afford food? The police and NFA officials should execute their duties with a human heart and not cause more misery,” he said.
The Aluru Sub-county councillor, Mr Martin Soma, said: “We were shocked to see houses being burnt by law enforcement officials. The best option would have been holding dialogue with the affected people.”
The acting district police commander, Mr Shafik Kasuja, said the suspects are in their custody for allegedly erecting structures on gazetted land.
“During our operations with the NFA, we found that people constructed some structures on the gazetted land. This is illegal so they (NFA office) notified the police, and we came in to support. We gave them security to enforce the law. Those structures that were burnt were illegally established,” he said.
Mr Francis Oduti, the Aluru Sub-county chairman, said the local leaders were not informed of the eviction, adding that such evictions should not be used to destroy houses or items of encroachers.