War veterans and ex-service men in Hoima District have vowed that they will not recognise the outcomes of the ongoing exercise to reopen the boundaries of Kandanda-Ngobya Central Forest Reserve.
They have been anguished by what they described as failure by the office of the Hoima Resident District Commissioner (RDC) and the National Forestry Authority (NFA) to involve them both in preparation and actual boundary opening exercise.
They are suspicious that the NFA is conniving with Mr Michael Kyakashari, the Hoima Deputy RDC and some Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom officials to stifle the interests of the veterans on that long disputed piece of land.
The boundary opening was meant to resolve a land dispute involving the war veterans who claim six square miles in Greater Kyabigambire, local residents, the NFA and Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom that have land neighbouring Kandanda-Ngobya Central Forest Reserve.
In an interview with Kazi-njema radio, Mr Joseph Karugaba Isimbwa, the Chairperson Kulima-kurungi Civilian and War Veterans Association in Hoima district said lack of transparency discredits the boundary opening exercise.
“We are the key stakeholders and you cannot talk about that land conflict without mentioning the veterans. There is a conspiracy to degrade our interests yet crown land is still recognised in the laws of Uganda,” says Mr Karugaba.
In a phone to phone interview, Mr Kyakasari – the accused deputy RDC, denied accusations that they did not involve the veterans in the exercise citing Sgt Peter Bagonza as a witness from the beginning of the exercise.
“I even travelled with him in my car. I don’t know what Karugaba wants. I do not have any interests apart from doing my job. Those veterans have even been terrorising communities there,” says Mr Kyakashari.
According to him, the boundary opening exercise was going on very well and embraced by all residents and local leaders.
When contacted for a comment, Sgt Bagonza, the veterans’ coordinator, denied claims that he was involved in the meeting and the entire boundary opening exercise on behalf of the veterans.
“I did not get any official invitation to participate in the exercise. I went as an individual landowner in the area. It is true I was given a lift there by the Deputy RDC Mr Kyakashari but to show that I was not officially there, I was not carried in the cabins. I sat behind with the guards,” says Sgt Bagonza.
On his part, Mr Alex Obonyo, the Kisindi Sector Manager of the NFA, said that it is the veterans that did not show interest in the boundary opening exercise for their own reasons but it was open.
He did not state whether the veterans were officially notified about the commencement of the exercise and their role.
Mr Jackson Byaruhanga, the Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom Minister for Natural Resources, says the preparation and boundary opening exercise was led by the office of the RDC and the NFA.
“We have always dismissed claims of the veterans that the kingdom gave them land there. We did not give them land but as the people of Bunyoro and as the kingdom hosts everybody, we can discuss if they use the correct procedure,” says Mr Byaruhanga.
He clarifies that the interest of the kingdom on the boundary opening lies much on ensuring justice for everybody and safeguarding the cultural sites for instance that could be in the central forest reserve which is among the kingdom assets yet to be restituted.
He also dismisses claims that the veterans have not been involved, remembering a meeting where they witnessed veteran’s representatives.
The disputed land is located in Greater Kyabiganbire sub-county of Hoima district.
In October last year, Ms Huda Abason Oleru, the State Minister for Defence and Veteran Affairs in charge of Veterans, visited the veterans’ land in Kyabigambire along with other veterans’ pieces of land across the country to strategise on putting them into use for economic development.
In response to the veterans’ request for her intervention into the long dispute over the boundaries majorly involving NFA, the minister ordered for the boundary opening as a first important step.
The NFA later told reporters that the resources for the boundary opening had been secured but it was just pending consensus and greenlight from Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom which is a key stakeholder.
The RDC says the kingdom has been cooperative to have the boundary reopened.
The veterans say they were given the land in dispute by the Queen of England.