Fourteen Dead in Massacre, As Uganda's U.S.-backed Gen. Museveni Evicts Peasant Farmers on Behalf of Investors

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Champagne toast. U.S. Ambassador to Uganda Deborah Malac and dictator Museveni. This is when she presented her credentials to Museveni in 2015 as reported in The New Vision. Photo: Uganda's Presidential Press Unit.

GULU--Leaders in Uganda's Acholi region have condemned a new spate of killings and evictions of peasant farmers by soldiers and police as the country's U.S.-backed dictator of 32 years Gen. Yoweri Museveni tries to seize land to sell to foreign investors. 

Uganda receives more than $1 billion in U.S. financial and military aid from U.S. taxpayers' money each year. 

Even though U.S. Ambassador to Ugandan Deborah Malac has not uttered a word Amnesty International has condemned the military attacks. "The evictions have been carried out by the authorities in violation of the constitution and international human rights law," the global human rights organization said in a statement calling for "urgent action."

Village leaders report that 14 people have been killed and two are missing in the latest attacks that occurred from May 15 to 17. As many as 5,700 homes are reported burned and over 15,000 people displaced.

Political, religious, and village leaders from the region have called the campaign "ethnic cleansing." Soldiers have burned down the homes of people evicted from their lands forcing some, including women and children, to sleep in the forests as they hide from the security forces fearing they will be killed. 

Fifteen people are reported dead in raids against the population of Apaa villages in Amuru district in the  northern part of Uganda. The raids and evictions were carried out over a three-day period beginning May 15. It was a joint military assault by the Uganda Wild Life Authority, the Uganda Police, and the military which is known as the Uganda Peoples' Defense Force (UPDF).  It is believed that the Museveni regime wants to lease the land to foreign investors who want to turn the huge tracts into game parks reserves. 

Political and religious leaders, and some of the victims of the raids, met at the Acholi Cultural Institution palace on Sunday May 27, to condemn the attacks by Gen. Museveni's armed forces. The meeting was chaired by Dr. John Baptist Odama, the Archbishop of Gulu Catholic Arch Diocese.

Sabino Ocan, a survivor, said the attack killed Elibarina Auma, 83, a mother of 10 children in her village of Punulyech. "The soldiers came and burnt 270 huts and looted chicken and goats," Ocan, who is a cultural, political and religious leader, said. He said the looted livestock were given to ethnic Madi people from Adjumani to carry for them. 

Gen. Museveni has been stoking inter-ethnic violence between Acholi and Madi; fighting between the two peoples, promoted by the regime, has caused many homes to be abandoned. The regime has encouraged the Madi to attack Acholis claiming the latter are occupying land that belong to them. Critics contend the strategy is to make the areas where the Acholi reside inhospitable and eventually lease them out to the foreign game parks developers. 

The area in question is about 319 square miles of fertile land. Ocan said soldiers have created a garrison in Punulyech, and in Gazi village in Apaa Parish to prevent people from returning to their homes.

Ocan said the attacks against the villagers were comparable to the atrocities against the Ryohingya, Muslim minorities who were attacked and driven out of Myanmar by the armed forces. "I appeal to international communities..." he said, referring to the attacks as "terrorism."

These new attacks by Museveni's military comes as people in the northern part of Uganda are slowly recovering from the two-decades conflict between the UPDF and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) led by Joseph Kony. Between 1986 to 2006, almost 2 million Acholis --or 90% of the population-- were herded into concentration camps by the regime. It is estimated that as many as one million people perished from hunger and diseases in the camps. 

Also at the media briefing, Apaa Village leader Okema Justine was still receiving calls with updates from people describing the burning of homes and torture of villagers by soldiers. “So far the total numbers of grass thatched huts burnt by soldiers is 5,700, displacing over 15,000 civilians,” Okema said. “We have so far lost 14 people and two are missing,” he added. 

Livingstone Okello-Okello, the highly-respected former Member of Parliament, and Chairman of Acholi Wang OO, a community networking and mobilization organization, condemned the killing, but also cautioned that people should refrain from Museveni's plan to incite war between the Acholis and Madis which he will then use to seize land.

“This is Museveni's systematic move to cleanse Acholi [ethnic people] and he is committed and doing it,” Okello-Okello said. “He has taken all our land stretching from Kololo to Lipan in Lamwo district.”

The latest attacks have created great anger amongst the youth in the region. Some have approached their chiefs and political leaders seeking their blessing to mobilize armed resistance. Critics contend that is exactly what Gen. Museveni hopes would happen so that he can unleash full-scale war as he did between 1986 and 2006.

“We are being treated unjustly. They want to loot all our wealth and make us useless,” Charles Olweny, a youth from the affected area, said. “We will dare them and never accept such nonsense.”

Member of Parliament Akello Lucy reported to Gen. Museveni on May 27 that soldiers raided the Apaa community. “We wish to bring to your attention that over 100 UPDF soldiers raided this community and during their raid they shot a 26 year old Okello Python and injured two more,” Akello wrote, “348 huts were burnt, several goats and chicken looted and displaced hundreds,” Akello also wrote.

Akello told Gen. Museveni that Brig. Emmanuel Kanyesigye, the 4th Division Commander under whom the soldiers are committing atrocities, told her his orders came "from above."

The community of Apaa sued the Uganda government in the High Court in Gulu District with a civil suit No. 0060 of 2011. The Court issued a permanent injunction on February 15, 2012 which is still valid to this day and the matter is proceeding. However, the regime has repeatedly used the Uganda security forces to violate the injunction by creating a state of terror in the region.

The Deputy Speaker of Uganda's Parliament Jacob Oulanya who presided over a hearing in the House on April 13, 2017 ruled that the issue was not about a boundary dispute between Acholis and Madis because people of Uganda can stay anywhere in the country. “When our people were in IDP camps, their land was degazetted as game reserve without consulting the land owners,” Oulanya said in Parliament. He was referring to the concentration camps, euphemistically called Internally Displaced Peoples' camps sometimes.

Oulanya instructed the Prime Minister Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda to return on the floor of Parliament to degazette the Land. On June 21, 2017, the Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga ruled that the government should go back and reaffirm the boundary between Amuru and Adjumani districts. She went ahead to emphasize that cultural and religious leaders and communities must be involved in the process within one month. One year later, nothing has been done; except the new armed attack against civilians by government forces. 

On October 13, 2017, the Local government Minister, Tom Butime declared Apaa parish as located in Adjumani district --not in Acholi but in Madi-- and ordered the police and Chief Administrative officers of the two district to implement his directive. A signpost and roadblock is now set 16 miles inside Amuru district as part of Adjumani.

A Joint Acholi Leaders’ Communique on the Apaa Crisis was issued on May 27. It demands, among other things that: the Museveni regime immediately halt the wanton and inhumane attacks by the state security agencies; and,  immediately withdraw the UPDF, the Police and Uganda wild Life Authority armed agents from Apaa.

The communique, which was read by Justice Galdino Okello, the Court of Appeal Judge, further demanded that: government give assurance of its commitment to resolve the issue and to respect the Court order stopping further eviction; and, that the government officials who violated the Court order be held in contempt of Court.

“The attention of the International Community be drawn to the ... gross violations of human rights happening in Apaa and those involved face the world Court for heinous crimes against unarmed civilians,” the Communique reads in part.

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