Gulu — In April 2015, elderly women in Apaa Parish, Paboo Sub-county in Amuru District undressed before the then Lands minister, Mr Daudi Migereko, and former Internal Affairs minister, the late Gen Aronda Nyakairima, protesting government's compulsory demarcation of the boundary between Amuru and Adjumani districts.
The nude protest prompted the cancellation of the demarcation exercise on the 40 square kilometre land as the ministers and surveying team and security personnel retreated.
However, in September the same year, the government returned and demarcated the boundary, erected mark stones and handed the disputed land to Adjumani District local government.
The demarcation, which was overseen by the army and police, sparked protests. Many locals suffered gunshot and teargas injuries and 34 youth were arrested for allegedly inciting violence. The government argued that the demarcation would resolve the longstanding conflict between the Madi and Acholi ethnic communities. However to date, the conflict still rages on.
The residents claim the government has a sinister motive to give away the land to an investor in disguise of demarcating the boundary between the two districts. The government has denied the charge.
In the latest violence between the two ethnic communities last week, four people were killed, 21 suffered severe wounds while more than 700 were displaced from their homes.
In the Wednesday morning raid, the attackers used machetes, spears, bows and arrows. Majority of the casualties were Acholi occupying Juka Village in the disputed boundary area.
About 100 members of the Madi community also fled and are camped at Zoka Primary School.
The violence has left a lot of property in ruins since the year began and the government and local leaders do not appear to have a tangible answer to end the hostility.
Some residents blame the escalating violence on the government's compulsory demarcation of the land without a compromise between the Madi and Acholi communities who claim the land.
Mr Boniface Oringa, 60, a resident of Juka C Village, said he left his land at the peak of the Lord's Resistance Army insurgency in 2004 and returned in 2007 when the gun fell silent. "Since 2007 we have had peaceful and productive co-existence between the Madi and Acholi in Apaa Parish. Our people intermarried freely until 2012 when Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) evicted locals from the area," Mr Oringa said.
He said they were surprised that the government had begun extending Adjumani District beyond the Zoka river, which has been widely known as the boundary mark between Adjumani and Amuru since colonial time.
"The forcible demarcation in 2015 put an end to the relationship between the Acholi and Madi communities. Each community started living on their own and wouldn't want to cross the Zoka river boundary for fear of being attacked," Mr Oringa said.
Amuru District Woman MP Lucy Akello accused the government of "totally" failing to manage the redemarcation of the boundary between the two districts and not responding to several violent clashes between the two belligerent communities.
"Our people (Acholi) have persistently been attacked and killed but government has been silent," Ms Akello said, adding that the 2015 demarcation exercise did not consider consent of the rival communities who own the land.
"We don't respect the demarcation exercise because the process was flawed. For any demarcation to happen, the two neighbours must agree. But in the Amuru-Adjumani boundary demarcation, the government chose force instead of dialogue," Ms Akello charged.
She asked the government to cancel its boundary demarcation and hold a round-table meeting with the leaders of the two districts to find a lasting solution to the conflict.
She suggested that the East Madi Game Reserve be de-gazetted to allow the communities settle on the land.
East Madi Game Reserve was gazetted in 2002 by Adjumani Town Council.
However, Adjumani District vice chairman John Anyanzo said they acquitted the land after its demarcation by government in 2015.
"The problem arising currently is that the Acholi don't want to pay allegiance to Adjumani District leaders. They still believe they are in Amuru District, which is not the case and over time it has climaxed into violence," Mr Anyanzo said.
On Monday, premier Ruhakana Rugunda visited the disputed land in Apaa in another effort to find a lasting solution to the wrangle. He was accompanied by Lands minister Betty Amongi and minister for Disaster Preparedness Hillary Onek.
He first held a brief meeting with Acholi paramount chief David Onen Acana II in Gulu Town before proceeding to Adjumani. "We want to have discussions with political leaders in some of the areas we are going to. Although we have held meetings with them before, this particular one should bring an end to the land conflicts," Dr Rugunda said without giving any specific proposal.
"We want to have discussions with political leaders in some of the areas we are going to. Although we have held meetings with them before, this particular one should bring an end to the land conflicts," dr Ruhakana Rugunda, Prime Minister
"The government has to clearly explain its role in what is happening at the moment. Our people (Acholi) have persistently been attacked and killed but government has been silent," Lucy Akello, Amuru District Woman MP
"The problem arising currently is that the Acholi don't want to pay allegiance to Adjumani District leaders. They still believe they are in Amuru District, which is not the case and over time it has climaxed into violence," John Anyanzo, Adjumani District Vice Chairman.