Rubirizi. Four people from Kicwamba and Magambo sub-counties in Rubirizi District have not been seen by their family members since they left their homes for Queen Elizabeth National Park on June 25.
The community members are suspicious that their people might have been killed by the park rangers over poaching.
However, this claim has been dismissed by the Uganda Wild Life Authority (UWA) officials.
Those who disappeared are Vincensio Busingye, 47, Julius Mateso, 27, Didas Byamugisha, 40, all from Kyema Village in Magambo Sub-county and Asaph Mbyemire, 48, from Nyakasozi Village in Kicwamba Sub-county.
Mr Robert Tumwesigye, a brother-in-law to Busingye, claims the four were killed while skinning a buffalo in the park near Kazinga Channel.
“My brother in-law has naturally been a hunter. He has been hunting with his friends, and on Monday (June 25) at around 6am, he left home in Kyema Village, for Queen Elizabeth National Park to check on their traps they had laid in the earlier,’’ Mr Tumwesigye said.
He added: “They found their trap with the buffalo so they had to call five boda boda cyclists to transport the meat. When the riders were approaching, they heard bullets and retreated; they were, however, intercepted by a UWA van. Three riders managed to elude arrest but two were arrested with their motorcycles.”
Mr Tumwesigye further said one of the hunters returned home with a bullet in the leg and narrated the story of their encounter with the rangers.
He said when he contacted UWA officials, they told him that they did not know anybody who got any problems in the park.
Mr Tumwesigye then reported the missing people to police.
Two days later, the locals were allowed to go into the park to search for their missing relatives but they only saw traces of blood.
“They gave us a team and we entered the park to look for them. Between Kazinga and Kisenyi Road, we found blood, which was taken for testing and we are yet to get the findings,’’ Mr Tumwesigye said.
Police confirmed to this newspaper that the case was reported.
“A case was reported that five people went for poaching in the park and one of them came back with a bullet wound. He has since gone into hiding fearing to be prosecuted. The four people he went with disappeared,” Mr Martial Tumusiime, the Greater Bushenyi police spokesperson, said.
He added: “Police got in touch with UWA and conducted a search but we were unsuccessful in getting them. Police together with UWA are doing further investigations to get them or recover their bodies (if they died).”
The Rubirizi District chairperson, Mr Sylvester Agubanshongorera, confirmed that four people are missing and the authorities have been making relentless efforts to establish what befell them.
“It is alleged that these people were killed by game rangers when they had gone for poaching. We tried to work with UWA to look for their bodies and up to now, we have not succeeded,” Mr Agubanshongorera said.
He added: “I condemn the act of poaching, people should desist from poaching but again, I also condemn the act of killing our people once they get there. Let them be arrested and be reprimanded, fined or imprisoned but not killed.”
The Bunyaruguru MP, Mr John Twesigye, said there has been a very bad relationship between locals and park employees.
Locals are often killed in the park and wild animals destroy people’s gardens.
“In Rubirizi District, especially in Bunyaruguru County, there has been a very big problem of poor relationship between the management of Queen Elizabeth National Park and the people. There has been a problem of elephants invading our people, destroying crops. We have talked to government, we want that problem solved because our people are suffering,” Mr Twesigye said.
The Rubirizi Resident District Commissioner, Mr Joseph Kule Maranga, said they are still investigating the matter.
“We are go around telling people not to go poaching in the park but there are those who are adamant, claiming they cannot do without wild meat even if you gave them goat’s meat,” he said.
UWA communications manager Bashir Hangi said the allegations that rangers killed the locals who were found poaching in the park are false.
“We are aware of the allegations and we are working with communities and authorities to help in the investigations,” he said, adding: “We have strict standard operating procedures that our rangers follow and besides, the law does not allow killing people. Our rangers do not either shoot to kill or shoot to maim, we ensure that when poachers are found in protected areas, they are arrested and prosecuted.”