Police have arrested two people in connection to protests against the eviction of more than 528 people from Mbaale forest reserve in Luweero district. The suspects are Fred Ssekitoleko and Kisegerwa Ssegawa, residents of Mbaale and Yandwe Villages respectively.
The suspects were picked up on Tuesday afternoon by Anti-Riot Police and officers from the National Forestry Authority for defying the eviction notice. Scores of Anti-riot police personnel led by Jimmy Owona, the Officer in Charge of Evictions in the National Forest Authority stormed Mbaale village in Butuntumula Sub County to evict squatters from the forest reserve.
The affected residents have been occupying part of the 1208 hectares of land belonging to Mbaale Central forest reserve. NFA stopped the squatters from tilling the land early this year and ordered them to vacate. The deadline for voluntary vacation of the land elapsed on Monday.
However, Ssekitoleko defied the eviction orders, saying he had nowhere to go because he inherited the land from his grandparents who settled there in the area in the early 1900's. He asked the officers to present the eviction orders but they couldn't hear any of this. They arrested him and bundled him into awaiting NFA van.
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Salim Zimula, the Kakabala Parish councilor defended the residents, saying they inherited the disputed land from their grandparents who settled on it in 1915 with permission from Buganda Kingdom.
He explains that the forest reserve was gazetted in 1967 under the arrangement that residents would utilize part of the land, adding that mark stones were planted to separate residents from the reserve.
Zimula says that annexation of people's land to the forest reserve is unfair, saying they won't support the eviction. 100-year-old Miriam Namakula and 80-year-old Beatrice Naluzze said they have occupied the disputed land since childhood.
The duo say they have established permanent structures, crop gardens and set up other investments on the land, which they can't leave without compensation. They pleaded with NFA to halt the eviction in vain prompting them to appeal to President, Yoweri Museveni to intervene in the matter.
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Ronald Ndawula, the Luweero LC 5 Chairman rushed to the village and ordered the policemen to stop the eviction, saying it was unfair, illegal and driven by commercial interests. Ndawula later told URN that he is working with the affected people to seek court redress.
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Ndawula and the residents charged at the officers prompting them to release the suspects and retreat to an enforcement camp in the forest reserve. The Police commander only identified as Assistant Inspector of Police, Sekanabo who is attached to National Forestry Authority, said he wouldn't withdraw without instructions from his bosses in Kampala.
He insisted that the establishment of permanent structures on the forest land contravenes the National Forestry and Tree Planting Act. However, when challenged to explain on whom between the forest reserve and residents first occupied the land, the officer couldn't respond and walked away from the meeting.
Jimmy Owona, the Officer in Charge of Encroachers under National Forest Authority told residents that they encroached on the forest reserve and should look for alternative land to settle.
Owona threatened to return with graders and demolish all the houses on the forest reserve land. By time our reporter left the Forest Reserve, Police had stopped the eviction exercise but were threatening to resume and force people from the land.
In 2017, NFA attempted to evict the same people but the former Luweero Deputy Resident District Commissioner; Hussein Katende Kibazo halted the exercise, saying the move was unfair and could trigger insecurity in the area.