Kampala. Two senior police officers have been separately quizzed over violent evictions of 5,000 farmers from a wetland in three sub-counties in Butaleja District.
The Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters yesterday quizzed Police Flying Squad commandant Peter Kakonge over accusations of torture and violent arrests as well as displacement of people.
It is alleged that during his tenure as the Bukedi Regional Police Commander, Mr Kakonge failed to execute his duties, which led to loss of lives and property.
Mr Kakonge, who appeared before the team chaired by Justice Catherine Bamugemereire, confessed to deploying officers to patrol the contested land basing on reports from his juniors who included Mr Alex Wabwire, the then Butaleja District police commander.
Mr Kakonge said there was a case of arson reported as well as professional misconduct against police officers and that he referred the complaints to Mbale Region Police Standards Unit but no report was provided.
“I think I did my role despite my juniors’ mistakes. I agree that some officers made mistakes but not all. I directed my detectives to investigate the matter,” he testified.
Questioned over complaints against police officers regarding looting property and ferrying it to Butaleja, Mr Kakonge denied the allegations.
“My officers reported that people left their property unattended and they were brought to police for safe custody,” he said. Mr Kakonge was appearing before the land probe in regard to ongoing investigations into the alleged eviction of rice out-growers from a wetland in Butaleja District.
It is alleged that in April 2015, two businessmen, Hajj Malik Koire and Hajj Kadri Hifude, with the help of armed police officers and stick-wielding men without court orders, evicted the farmers from the land they had occupied for decades. The land in dispute measures more than 1,500 acres.
Earlier on, the land probe had quizzed Mr Wabwire and handed him over to police detectives to make a fresh statement regarding giving false evidence to the land probe.
It is alleged that during his tenure as Butaleja District police chief, Mr Wabwire commanded the violent evictions, looting of property and detention of more than 50 people.
Mr Wabwire said he arrived on the fateful day when Hajj Koire’s house was already on fire, with seven people witnessing the burning.
“When they (people) saw me, they took off. I called the RPC (Kakonge) who sent two trucks and personnel but they found the house already razed. Arrests were made and people were prosecuted in court,” Mr Wabwire said.
Asked to explain how they identified the suspects, Mr Wabwire said they based on public testimonies.
The land probe also questioned Mr Richard Gulume, who was deployed to Butaleja District in 2010.
He said he learnt about the dispute from complaints from rice out-growers.