Squatters in Mbaale forest reserve in Butuntumula Sub County in Luweero district have clashed with the Water and Environment Minister, Sam Cheptoris over their pending eviction. At least 528 squatters occupy part of the 1208 hectares of land belonging to Mbaale Central forest reserve.
Last year, the National Forestry Authority-NFA ordered the squatters to vacate the forest reserve land to pave way for tree planting and restoration of the forest in vain. On Wednesday, the Water and Environment Minister, Sam Cheptoris and Minister without Portfolio, Hajj Abdul Nadduli and NFA officials met the squatters.
Cheptoris asked them to respect the eviction notice and vacate the forest land. He said the Ministry will engage the leaders of the encroachers on the how the affected squatters will be relocated to pave way for tree planting.
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However, the area Parish Councilor, Salim Zimula interjected the minister accusing him of bias. Zimula assured the Minister that they will not vacate the contested land because they are the rightful owners. He explained that the affected people inherited the contested land from their grandfathers who settled on it in 1915 with permission from Buganda Kingdom.
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He asked government to degazette the contested land in their favor of the affected people or consider compensating them. Some of the squatters led by Stanley Kibalama told the Minister that they are ready to shade blood defending their land should government insist on evicting them.
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Other squatters said they have occupied the contested land for decades and should be left to continue using it, saying evicting them will render them homeless.
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In his response, Cheptoris said he wasn't ready to quarrel with the squatters and that all he knows is that they are encroachers. He threatened to end the meeting and return to his office in Kampala to allow the law to take its course.
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The meeting degenerated into a verbal exchange between Cheptoris and the squatters until when the minister decided to inspect the contested land. He promised to meet district and the representatives of the squatters in the next two weeks to present a final position on the matter.