AMURU/ADJUMANI. A six-member parliamentary committee, tasked to investigate the Apaa land conflict, has asked government to stop any form of eviction of locals settled on the disputed land until true land ownership is established.
The legislators were selected on March 3 this year by Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga.
They made the call on Monday while meeting a section of Apaa locals and their leaders at Amuru District headquarters.
Apaa land, measuring approximately 827 Sq Km, borders Amuru and Adjumani districts. Government claims it is a protected East Madi Wildlife Reserve gazetted by Parliament in 2002.
Their call follows government's recent directive of stopping business people from operating in Apaa Market citing it is in a protected area.
The market was shifted to Zoka Centre in Zoka Parish, about 10 kilometres inside Adjumani District, sparking off outrage.
In an April 10 letter written by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) warden-in-charge of East Madi Wildlife Reserve, Mr Tony Olinga Bogere, the traders were ordered to conduct their last businesses last Friday.
Ms Agnes Ameede, the Butebo District Woman legislator, who is also the committee chairperson, told Daily Monitor in an interview on Monday that the recent directive waters down their work given the fact that they have been selected to investigate and inform government.
"It would have been prudent for government to wait for the outcome of our investigation. This issue was also handled in the 9th Parliament; reason why they didn't come out with a conclusive report was because the matter was taken to court. It is still due for hearing," Ms Ameede said.
She said if government had been operating under coordination of all interest, the recent directives of eviction would not have been implemented.
"It's not right and we as a committee since we have heard it from the locals as part of our finding, we shall write to the speaker to pray that government respects our work and possibly stop the eviction until our report is out," she said.
During the one-day meeting, the affected Apaa locals raised concern on the credibility of the committee citing that earlier the President had called for formation of committees from both Acholi and Amuru but their recommendations were never used.
The locals also reiterated their rejection of government plans to relocate and compensate them and instead demanded degazettement of the land under contention.
However, Ms Ameede said their committee is independent and promised that their reports will be based on facts.
She also said they have been able to interact with various stakeholders, including the Tourism minister, Prime Minister, Internal Affairs minister, Lands minister, Acholi Parliamentary Group, Madi Parliamentary Group, and civil society.
The Amuru Resident District Commissioner, Ms Agnes Linda Auma, said the eviction is denting government image.
She blamed government for the recent clandestine registration of the locals in Apaa, arguing that the figures did not represent the true numbers of people.
Documents presented before Cabinet in February seen by this newspaper titled: "The memorandum of efforts to resolve the Apaa land conflict," indicated that a total of 374 households occupy the land out of which 206 of them were found to be cooperative with government.
Ms Auma said the incorrect figures come as a result of people shying away from the exercise, adding that it is the same reason they rejected the proposed plans to resettle and compensate them.
"In my opinion, government should carry out fresh registration of the locals in the area and find out the exact number of the people and the bona fide land owners, this will enable a long lasting solution," she said.
She also blamed UWA officials for blocking consignments of medicine to be taken to Apaa Health Centre II, arguing that the locals in the area have to now move long distances for medical treatment.
Other committee members are Mukono South MP Johnson Muyanja Ssenyonga, Kyaka South MP Jackson Kafuuzi Karugaba, Worker's MP Margaret Rwabushaija and Makindye-Ssabagabo Municipality MP Emmanuel Ssempala Kigo.
The team is expected to visit the disputed Apaa land today.