24 February 2013

Uganda: Museveni Orders Eviction of Encroachers

President Yoweri Museveni has directed Prof. Ephraim Kamumutu, the water and environment minister, to evict all encroachers on forests in Kyegegwa district.

The letter, dated January 26, stated that the directive had been prompted by the district chairman's complaint that some people had invaded Government-protected forests.

"I am directing you to work with local leaders to ensure that these encroachers are removed from Government forests, using legal but non-brutal ways," stated the letter, signed by the President.

It was copied to the VicePresident, Edward Ssekandi the Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi, the minister in charge of the presidency, Frank Tumwebaze and MPs from Toro.

Museveni said the encroachers claimed they were his voters, but he insisted that that should not be used as a lee-way to break environmental laws.

"It is good they are voters of Museveni. But Museveni's supporters should be exemplary in following the law."

The directive has attracted mixed reactions within the Government and civil society.

Critics said the President was selectively ordering eviction of encroachers.

A presidential order restraining eviction of encroachers issued in 2007 has been standing and has not been lifted, leading to invasion and encroachment on forest reserves across the country.

Adolf Byamukama, the chairperson of Kyegegwa sub-county, in a letter dated January 22, said: "It has become a security threat, putting the lives of many at high risk, as some of them are reportedly armed."

The letter was addressed to the Kyegegwa RDC, asking for his intervention.

He said unidentified people were operating in the 1,000-acre Rwensambya Forest Reserve in Kabwezi parish. Byamukama said the encroachers cut timber and load it at night.

In another letter dated February 14, Byamukama said previous attempts to minimise illegal cutting of trees in the forest reserves had scaled down the malpractice by November last year.

He said the situation deteriorated when an armed group invaded the forest. Residents said some of the encroachers had army uniforms and fire-arms.

Michael Mugisa, the executive director of the National Forestry Authority (NFA), said a meeting had been convened, following the directive and that they were working with the district and the residents to evict the encroachers.

NFA is mandated under the National Tree Planting and Forestry Act to protect 506 forest reserves countrywide. Districts are in charge of managing local forest reserves.

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