Amuru leaders, residents protest forest boundary demarcation
By Denis Otim
Residents and leaders of Amuru district are resisting the boundary demarcation of a forest reserve by officials from National Forestry Authority
On Tuesday last week, NFA officials, assisted by armed policemen started
re-opening boundaries of Olwal Forest Reserve in Olwal Village; Lamogi
Sub-county, on grounds that it has been encroached upon, and degraded by trespassers.
The affected, estimated at about 50 households, however maintain that the land in question, measuring 1,384 hectares, is customarily owned; therefore its demarcation is illegal, and must be discontinued.
Olok Ajum Cidoro is a 65-year-old whose 60 hectares of land has been marked as a forest reserve. However, he said he has lived in the area since birth, and
never faced any problems with forestry officials who now claim the land is a forest reserve.
“I was raised in this area and we buried my grandfather and father on
this same piece of land... the demarcation is a trick to grab my land,” Cidoro told the Northern Era in an interview.
The father of ten children said although he briefly fled from the land
during the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency to Wiyanono Pagaka
Internally Displaced Persons’, IDP camp he returned in 2007, where he has since been living and farming peacefully.
“I wonder where government wants me to take my extended family at
this age; I have never known any place apart from this land.”
Cidoro appealed to local leaders to intercede for the affected locals.
Richard Abola, another local threatened with eviction, owns eight hectares
land. Abola argued that the NFA officials have a different purpose for
demarcating the land as a forest reserve.
Abola claims that he inherited the land from his father who passed on 20
years ago, and has never seen trees planted on the land to warrant it’s a forest reserve.
“This exercise must stop, we have suffered during the [LRA] war, and this
forceful demarcation is adding pain to our sufferings,” he said.
Conversely, Jimmy Ouna, NFA’s encroachment prevention specialist said the
exercise is being done on orders of the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Water and Environment; therefore, it is lawful.
Ouna explained that about 15 hectares of the Forest reserve had been a trial plot for eucalyptus and pine trees. He added that locals who settled in Olwal IDP camp encroached on the land and destroyed all the tress.
Ouna said the land was gazetted as a forest reserve in 1940 and surveyed in 1963.
“This exercise is to ascertain how much land has been used for agriculture, the extent of forest degradation, and the number of squatters on the land.”
“We shall only evict people in the forest and resume planting trees,” Ouna said.
The Kilak South Member of Parliament (MP) Gilbert Olanya, and the district LCV Chairperson, Michael Lakony, pledged to petition court to stop re-opening the boundary of the contested land.
In December 2017, the Clerk to parliament, Ikiror Semakula, wrote to the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Water and Environment to expeditiously handle the matter, following Olanya’s petition in parliament.