Security suspends tree felling in Bugoma forest over fresh land dispute

A tree cut down with a power saw in Bugoma forest, Kikuube District.

Security in Kikuube District has suspended the exercise of felling trees on the disputed parts of Bugoma forest following the arrest of a journalist and a local leader in the forest neighbourhood.

Mr Richard Tabaro, the Kikuube Resident District Commissioner (RDC), has told journalists in Hoima city that all the already logged timber and charcoal burnt should remain there until the boundary is reopened.

This is between the 9.24 square miles of land that the National Management Authority (NEMA) cleared for development to Hoima Sugar Limited after court judged in favour of the kingdom for land ownership against the National Forestry Authority (NFA).

Mr Tabaaro defended the ongoing bush clearing as being legally done by Capital Focus, a Kampala based company that was contracted by Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom to harvest all the mature trees in line with its agreement with Hoima Sugar Limited ahead of its taking over for sugarcane planting.

The RDC added that the halting of the exercise is in response to fresh boundary disputes with the neighbouring communities though a survey was earlier conducted.

According to him, officials from the ministry of lands will resurvey the land next week before the contractor proceeded.

Audio: Tabaro on disputed land (English)
Tree felling takes place at Rwembaaho Village in Bugoma forest, Kabwoya Sub-county in Kikuube District.

Highlighting on the attack and arrest of journalists at Rwembaaho village in Kabwoya sub-county, Kikuube district, Mr Tabaro said they were mistaken for encroachers on the forest.

Mr Gad Asaba of Kazi-njema News and Mr Charles Twongirwe the Rwembaaho Village Chairman were arrested by the military for nearly seven hours in the forest on accusations of encroachment on the forest.

Mr Asaba had been guided by Mr Twongirwe and Mr Desire Nkurunziza, the chairperson for the neighbouring Nyairongo village to the bush clearing site along with another three journalists when they were intercepted by soldiers who threatened to shoot them.

The other journalists were Mr Andrew Kaahwa of Spice FM, Mr Ambrose Nuwagaba Katoto of TV West and Mr Godfrey Muhumuza of BTV.

Asked about the presence of the military in the forest, Mr Tabaro said they were deployed to provide security to the contractor by reinforcing the police that is still thin on ground in Kikuube district.

Audio: Tabaro on Bugoma forest (English)

The Rwembaaho village chairman, Mr Charles Twongirwe, was skeptical whether the exercise could surely be halted by the persons who never co-operated with the local leaders on entry into the forest of more than 300 men carrying power saws, axes and machetes since early this week.

He described the activities as a threat to security in the area.

Ms Proscovia Vikman, the Coordinator for Climate Action Network Uganda has expressed fear that this might be the start of massive destruction of the forest reserve leading the country to an environmental disaster.

She called upon all people with passion on conservation to heighten the struggle to save the forest.

No Member of Parliament from Bunyoro has ever made a clear statement on their stand about the forest.

The events unfold as a court case between NFA and Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom goes on over the forested part claimed to be part of Bugoma central forest reserve.

Last week, activists dragged NEMA to the East African Court of Justice over approving an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) report that gave a green light to Hoima Sugar Limited to plant sugarcane on the 9.24 square mile-forested part of the disputed land.

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