Soldiers deployed in Murchison Falls national park have been accused of carrying out extra-judicial killings of suspected poachers.
The soldiers are reported to have killed at least 25 people from Nguedo and Buliisa sub-counties in Buliisa district between March and September this year. All the victims are suspected poachers, and their families say they can't trace their bodies. The UPDF offers back-up for game rangers in the park.
Nguedio sub-county chairman, James Jopato said he has identified 20 people missing in his sub-county. "I have been getting complaints from the community over their dear ones allegedly shot dead by forces operating in Murchison Falls national park," Jopato said.
The chairman added that some survivors have claimed UPDF soldiers shot their colleagues. Consequently, relatives of the victims have been pleading with the army authorities to return the bodies for burial. Recently, Jopato organised a meeting with a number of security officials in the park, including Major Lino Dramadri, the commander of the UPDF forces in the park. However, Dramadri denied knowledge of the killings.
Buliisa MP Steven Mukitale Birahwa says he is alarmed by the situation and has reported to the ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities as well as Parliament's committee on tourism. "We cannot go silent as taxpayers continue to disappear," said Birahwa.
The legislator condemned such killings, saying that legal action should be taken against poachers. "If one is suspected to be a poacher, he should be arrested, tried and sentenced according to the law but not shot dead," Birahwa says.
When contacted for a comment, the Army and Defence spokesman, Col Felix Kulayigye, neither denied nor accepted the army's role in the alleged killings, insisting that soldiers in the park are only responsible for animals and tourists.
"I cannot account for poachers. If they were tourists, I could be questioned. First of all, why do they go there, are they animals? My only advice to the wananchi is, never to go poaching," said Col Kulayigye.