Tension is mounting in areas around Mbaale Forest Reserve in Luweero district following the deployment of Anti-Riot Police to block residents from accessing a disputed piece of land.
The officers under the command of Assistant Superintendent of Police identified only Nsekanabo moved house-to-house on Monday warning residents against planting crops on the disputed piece of land or else face forceful eviction.
They confiscated gardening tools and seedlings from some of the people found cultivating the land. There are about 528 squatters occupying part of the 1208 hectares of land belonging to Mbaale Central forest reserve, which is found in Butuntumula Sub County.
The affected residents attempted to engage the Policemen in vain. The officers informed them that they were working on the orders of Sam Cheptoris, the Water and Environment Minister.
The affected people claim to have inherited the contested land from their parents who settled there in the 1900s before the area was gazetted as Forest Reserve. However, National Forestry Authority insists occupants are encroachers who should vacate the land for tree planting.
Local leaders and residents say the deployment is likely to escalate the land wrangle. Stanley Kibalama, one of the affected residents says the Minister visited the forest reserve two weeks ago and promised to meet local leaders and some of the affected people before making a final decision on the matter.
Kibalama says the proposed meeting flopped and they were waiting for another appointment only to see policemen blocking them from planting and threatening them with eviction. He says any attempt to evict them without compensation is likely to lead to bloodshed because they have nowhere to go.
Richard Luwondera, the LC 1 Chairman Nalongo village, says he has stayed on the disputed piece of land for the last 45-years and has nowhere to go.
Luwondera says that in the 1900s, it was resolved that residents occupy part of the land and leave another part for tree planting, something they have been abiding with.
Godfrey Ssentongo, another affected resident, says that he has lived on the contested land for 47 years, adding that it his source of income.
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Ronald Ndawula, the LC 5 Chairman of Luweero District described the deployment as provocation and disrespect to the local leaders. He says the Minister will be held responsible as an individual should there be bloodshed on the disputed land.
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Mworozi Byaruhanga, the Luweero District Police Commander declined to comment on the deployment, saying he isn't in the charge of the operation. He instead referred URN to NFA.
Sam Cheptoris, the Water and Environment Minister told URN that the Police officers were deployed following reports that some of the people who had earlier on been evicted were making attempts to return while others were reclaiming more forest land.
Cheptoris says they agreed that the status quo be maintained until the local leaders meet on Friday to discuss the matter. He has ordered the officers not to evict any person from the reserve.