Uganda: Worry As Six Residents Disappear in Game Park

27 February 2019

Lyantonde — "I last saw my son on July 30, 2017. I don't know whether he is dead or alive. I wish those people (game rangers) find his body and I give him a befitting send-off ," says Mr Bruhan Ssekajjaja, a resident of Gayaza Village in Biwolobo Parish, who alleges that his son, Imam Magezi, disappeared in Lake Mburo National Park.

Mr Ssekajjaja says on the fateful day (July 30, 2017), Magezi went to the park to fetch firewood but never returned.

Magezi is not alone. Daily Monitor in a recent interview received complaints from residents from the three parishes of Biwolobo, Kyewanuula, and Katovu-Luwaama - all in Lyantonde Rural Sub-county, Lyantonde District, about their missing relatives they claim disappeared under similar circumstances in the past two years.

Some of the residents, who have reportedly gone missing, include; Robert Sserungo commonly known as Kimonde, 35, Imam Magezi, 22, Lawrence Mulindwa, 19, Nyasio Mugerwa 25, Alex Kateregga, 36 and Robert Sserugo, 22.

Residents are suspicious that their relatives might have been killed by the park rangers over suspected poaching.

Lake Mburo National Park covers 370 square kilometres. It is home to several species, including zebras and impalas.

The affected

Mr Simon Kabagambe, a friend to Magezi, says he was moving with the latter in the park when Uganda Wild Life Authority (UWA) rangers pursued them and arrested Magezi. "When UWA rangers pounced on us, I managed to escape, but my colleague could not. As he tried to escape, they [game rangers] shot him," Mr Kabagambe says.

Kateregga's wife, who preferred anonymity, says she last saw her husband on November, 25 2018 and she cannot tell whether he is still alive or dead.

Mr John Ssentuba, the chairperson Nakinombe Village, claimed the missing residents might have been shot at by game rangers.

"Over the years, some residents have disappeared in the park under unclear circumstances and it becomes difficult to trace them because the game rangers usually deny," he said.

He urged the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights to intervene and investigate the atrocities allegedly committed by game rangers.

Lyantonde Woman MP Pauline Kemirembe said she was planning a meeting with locals and other stake holders to see how they could address the problem.

Although the relatives of the missing residents insist they reported the matter to police, Mr Richard Asiimwe, the Lyantonde District Police Commander, said they are yet to record statements from members of the affected families.

"We haven't got any reports pertaining to the disappearance of five of the said missing persons. The only case we recorded is of Robert Sserugo from Kyewanura Sub-county," he said.

"It is good I have got the information, I am going to task my crime intelligence team to liaise with UWA officials and get details of the said cases," he added.

Mr Eria Kyaruzi said: "Sometimes they [game rangers] don't care whether you are a poacher or not, when they come to a village or trading centre and beat up whoever they come across."

However, UWA officials denied the allegations raised by the residents.

"Can they [residents] produce evidence of the people they claim were murdered by our enforcement officers; did they report to police? Those are just allegations, they want to justify their illegal activities," Mr Bashir Hangi, the UWA communications manager, said.

BACKGROUND

This year, a human rights report declared that the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) personnel, among other forces in the country have killed several civilians in the last three years. The report was launched by Court of Appeal judge, Justice Kenneth Kakuru, with findings of a study conducted by the Human Rights and Peace Centre (HURIPEC) at the Makerere University's School of Law.

Cases of people disappearing in game parks are not new. On April 15, 2016, residents of Saluti A and B cells, Kasese Municipality reportedly complained to police and UWA that two residents who had gone to collect firewood in Queen Elizabeth National Park disappeared and have never been traced to date.

On June 25, 2018, four people from Kicwamba and Magambo sub-counties in Rubirizi District also went missing in the same game park and their close friends claimed they were killed while skinning a buffalo in the park near Kazinga Channel.

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