ADJUMANI/AMURU. A section of residents occupying the contested 40 square kilometre Apaa land have vowed never to vacate the said land since they have lived on it for many years.
This comes in the wake of eviction threats from the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and National Forestry Authority (NFA), who want more than 15,000 people residing in Apaa village to vacate the land.
Last week, UWA and NFA officials issued last warnings to residents occupying the disputed land to stop cultivation and leave the area.
They accused the residents of settling illegally in East Madi Wildlife Game Reserve and Zoka Central Forest reserve respectively.
Whereas the eviction threats have caused panic among locals who have since started leaving, some say they will not vacate the land that has been feeding them over the years.
In October last year, the government demarcated the contested Apaa land and announced that it belonged to Adjumani District.
The move sparked off protests from Amuru District leaders and residents.
Mr Francis Lukeca, a resident of Patika West Parish in Apaa Village, told Daily Monitor in an interview last week that he would defy the government order.
The father of five children said he has no other place to go to incase government insist on chasing them out of the land.
“We are scared at the moment because every day we are getting threatened by government that we need to leave the area. But this doesn’t mean we shall not fight back to defend this land. My father has been on this land for many years before I inherited it. So I will fight hard to retain it for my children as well,” Mr Lukeca said.
He accused the government of attempting to illegally evict them from their customary land.
Mr George Opiyo, 34, a resident, said if he is chased away from Apaa land, he won’t be able to feed his four children and relatives.
“I grew up in this area, I got a wife while settled on this land and now I have children. But the government claims I am an illegal settler. I have no other place to go to. I will defend the land with my life in case I am pushed to the wall,” Mr Opiyo said.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Apaa residents have started leaving the land.
Ms Florence Aciro 43, a widow and a mother of five children, is among some of the locals who have left the land.
Daily Monitor found Ms Aciro and her family members had already packed their belongings ready to relocate to their relatives’ home in Pabbo Trading Centre in Pabbo Sub-county in Amuru District.
“My children and I don’t feel safe in the area, we witnessed violent clashes between government forces and locals in June last year. We don’t want to be part of such violence, so we are going away for safety,” Ms Aciro told Daily Monitor in an interview.
In June last year, the land dispute between Acholi and Madi communities in Apaa intensified, resulting in the death of 10 people. Several others were injured and more than 500 grass thatched huts torched.
Hundreds of people were displaced.
NFA insists on eviction
Mr Byron Oguzu, the NFA sector manager for Moyo and Adjumani districts, told Daily Monitor in an interview on Monday that the agency had received funds to carry on with the eviction exercise and re-demarcate the Zoka Central Forest reserve.
“Our challenge has been finances which delayed boundary opening exercises, but this has been resolved since we have got the funding. We are ready to deploy our surveyors on the ground anytime from now,” Mr Oguzu said.
He added that NFA does not have any plans to compensate the residents since they are occupying parts of the forest land illegally.
He said an estimated 120 households have been encroaching on 300 hectares of the forest land.
Mr Tony Olinga, the UWA commander for East Madi Wildlife Game Reserve, said plans are ongoing to evict the locals since they are illegally occupying the game reserve.
“Our ultimatum still stands. Those who are settling on the game reserve land must vacate before force is used,” he said.
Last week, a section of Amuru District leaders accused the government of pushing for the eviction of locals to pay way for exploring of minerals in Apaa.
The land conflict
Court case: The Kilak North Member of Parliament, Mr Anthony Akol, said the matter of Apaa locals is still in court and government should refrain from any further eviction exercises.
Last year, Mr Akol and eight others, including the Amuru District Woman Member of Parliament, Ms Lucy Akello, dragged the Attorney General, UWA and Adjumani District local government to court over Apaa land conflict.
Last week, the Gulu High Court Deputy Registrar, Mr Thadeus Opesen adjourned the case to May 22.
Eviction: In 2011, more than 4,000 locals residing in Apaa parish were forcefully evicted and dumped in Pabbo Sub County while several huts and crops were destroyed by UWA officials who claimed the locals were occupying a game reserve illegally.
Ethnic violence: Since 2012, Apaa has been a hotbed of violent clashes between the Acholi and Madi ethnic groups, with each claiming ownership of the strip of fertile piece of land that is estimated to be around 40 square miles.