The Banyala cultural leader (Ssabanyala) Rtd Maj Baker Kimeze, on Tuesday survived death after his UPDF guards were engaged in a fierce fight with a combined security force of UPDF soldiers and police during a fight for Bajjo Central Forest Reserve (Bajjo CFR).
The forest reserve located in Galilaaya sub-county, Kayunga District, measuring up to 3,373 hectares, has of late become a contentious item after Mr Morgan Isingoma, who claims to own a title for the land recently sold off 2 square miles of the reserve to Kiira Motors Corporation at an unspecified amount of money.
Kiira Motors seeks to use the land to construct an automobile manufacturing company.
On learning about the sale which National Forestry Authority (NFA) officials said was illegal, the Ssabanyala protested the move and vowed to fight on to ensure that the Bajjo CFR is not taken by people he called ‘mafias’.
Kayunga Resident District Commissioner (RDC) Mr Elijah Madoi, said the fracas started when the Ssabanyala went with a convoy of the royal UPDF guards to Bajjo CFR for a meeting with stakeholders.
Authorities in the area- including Mr Madoi, Kayunga district NRM chairman, Mr Moses Karangwa, District chairman, Mr Joel Kayiira and acting DPC Vyonne Kyomuhendo hurriedly drove to the contested land upon learning about the meeting.
Mr Kayiira (acting district chairman) said they found the ‘‘Ssabanyala talking to a group of residents, most of them from his ethnic Banyala, with a plan to divide the disputed land among them.’’
However, the Ssabanyala has dismissed this claim saying ‘‘it is intended to tarnish his name.’’
The youthful Mr Kayiira further accused Mr Kimeze of promoting tribalism and acting selfish, upsetting the cultural leader who vowed to discipline him for uttering “baseless and unfounded remarks.”
‘‘One of the Ssabanyala’s guards reportedly asked the soldiers and police that had been brought by the RDC to stay away from his boss and instead, UPDF soldiers and Field force Unit (FFU) police, all attached to Kayunga police station, pounced on the UPDF soldier and started beating him as they tried to disarm him,’’ an eye witness said.
The Ssabanyala in turn protested the manner in which his guards were being handled and he-too was briefly roughed up. Gunshots and tear gas were fired in the air as both sides were engaged in a fight. Mr Kayiira was later whisked away.
The UPDF guard, Mr Joseph Mubiru was severely injured on the head and was rushed to Kayunga hospital while his Ak-47 magazine was taken in the melee.
A tough sounding Ssabanyala said: “The RDC and Moses Karangwa wanted to kill me because I am fighting to protect a forest that is very important not only to Kayunga but neighbouring districts.”
He added that even if he is killed, this would not end his fight to protect the natural resource and vowed to inform the president about the matter.
But Mr Madoi who was also injured during the scuffle said if he had not intervened quickly, many lives would have been lost in the scuffle.
He said a regional security meeting involving NFA officials was to be held over the matter.
About 1 month ago, Mukono High Court deputy registrar Ms Mary Ikit issued an order stopping NFA from going ahead with opening boundaries of Bajjo CFR after Mr Isingoma dragged them to court.
But Mr Michael Ojja, the Lwankima sector manager where the forest reserve is located said Bajjo CFR is a water-shed for major water bodies like river Nile, Lake Victoria and Kyoga.