UPDF on the spot over death of three fishermen in Masaka

A section of Lambu landing site in Masaka District where the three fishermen died while evading arrest on Saturday. PHOTO | GERTRUDE MUTYABA

Local leaders and fishermen at Lambu Landing Site in Masaka District have tasked the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) to investigate soldiers under the Fisheries Protection Unit (FPU) who reportedly caused the death of three fishermen on Lake Victoria on Saturday.

The deceased fishermen Yaweh Ssenyonga, 30, Medard Mujuni, 32, and a one Kisembo were all residents of Lambu landing site in Bukakkata Sub County, Masaka District.

The trio is said to have been engaging in illegal fishing near Lwabaana Island, located a few nautical miles away from Lambu landing site. 

Mr Paul Kagolo, who survived the army operation, narrates that as they were trapping fish, the soldiers came and started chasing them, forcing their colleagues to dive into the water and swim.

“We were six in our boat and the soldiers using a speedboat came from behind chasing us. Three of our colleagues got so scared and chose to dive into the water. The soldiers instead concentrated on them in an attempt to arrest them and the rest of us managed to escape,” Mr Kagolo says.

Mr Gerald Lubezi, a councilor representing Bukakkata County at the district, wondered why the soldiers chose to chase the fishermen yet they could have waited for them at the landing site.

“The lake has no trees where fishermen can hold themselves, why do they continue chasing them with guns yet they can wait for them on the shoreline and arrest them?” he asked, adding that, “This latest incident should be thoroughly investigated because similar cases have happened in the past, but no action is taken against those errant soldiers.” 

Ms Alice Nalwadda, a wife to Mujuni wonders how she is going to fend for the family after her husband left her with seven children and a three-months pregnancy, without any source of income.

“My husband has been the sole bread winner, he had spent two weeks without fishing because of the torture by the soldiers, and the day he decided to return to the lake, is when he has been killed,” she said.

Ms Irene Nantongo, the secretary Lambu fishing village, says many women at the site have become widows after soldiers killed their husbands.

 “One week ago, we lost a fisherman, three others have also died in the same manner, we ask the government to withdraw the soldiers from the lake before they kill all our husbands,” Ms Nantongo said.

Ms Deo Ssentiba, the spokesperson FPU in Greater Masaka regretted the incident, saying the victims panicked when they saw the soldiers and consequently drowned in the lake. He says the soldiers tried their best to save the deceased, but failed.

“Many fishermen engaging in illegal fishing usually want to evade arrest by diving into the water which is risky because they lack the skills. We advise them to always accept arrest to avoid such incidents,” he says.  

Ever since President Museveni deployed soldiers to crackdown on illegal fishing on Uganda’s lakes in 2017, they have on several occasions been criticised over their high-handedness while dealing with suspects.

During FPU operations, many people suspected of dealing in immature fish have reportedly been tortured, some killed and several ungazetted landing sites destroyed along the shores of Lake Victoria, Kyoga and Albert.