Uganda Land Grab: U.S.-backed Military Ignores Parliamentary Directive And Continues Violent Evictions

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A victim of an attack over Apaa land

[Africa: Land Grab]

After the killing of more than a dozen civilians between May 15 to May 17 when the army evicted peasant farmers from their homes in Apaa in the northern part of Uganda the deputy speaker of Parliament issued a directive for the U.S.-trained military to halt its attacks on civilians.

The attacks have continued however the residents of Apaa told this reporter. The ousted residents believe the regime wants to sell their land to foreign investors and to increase the size of a national game preserve for animals. The land overlaps between the Acholi people and the Madi. The regime of Gen. Yoweri Museveni has instigated ethnic fighting between the Acholi and Madi who have lived in peace for decades, critics say. The regime wants to use the violence to intervene militarily and drive the Acholi off the part of the land where they reside. The army have garrisoned in areas where people were violently ousted from the land. Madi civilians have also been armed.

Uganda's military is trained and armed by the United States which also supports the regime with more than $1 billion per year. Local leaders have been calling for an arms embargo. U.S. ambassador to Uganda Deborah Malac has not made a statement on the violent evictions.

With this backdrop of violence, on May 31, Jacob Oulanyah deputy speaker of Uganda's Parliament issue the Parliamentary directive to the Uganda Peoples Defense Forces (UPPDF), Uganda Wildlife Authority and Uganda Police Forces to halt further forceful evictions of civilians of Apaa parish, Amuru district in the northern part of Uganda until there is a presidential resolution of the matter. There is also a 2012 court-ordered injunction by Justice Remy Kasule staying all evictions, which the military has long ignored. "The conflict over this area has created tension between the Madi and Acholi people,” Mr. Oulanyah said.

Initially the military withdrew to Adjumani district of West Nile region only to return with sporadic attacks beginning on June 12. At Otwe junction in Amuru town, the military mounted a barricade to stop anyone from traveling to Apaa areas and people were subjected to body searches, residents say. To this day there is a roadblock at Obera Bic, a junction connecting Amuru to Pabbo Sub-County in Amuru district. While others are along Labala road connecting Apaa to major parts of the region.

There is an overwhelming fear and resentment among the local Acholi communities who are denied access, ownership and use of their land by the regime.

Ms. Akello Mary, a mother of four children and a resident of Apaa village, met with this reporter along the way as she came to the market in Amuru town to buy salt and to shop. Normally she would take her time shopping. She rushed back fearing she would never find her children if another attack forced them to flee into the bush to hide from the soldiers. “I want to go back before soldiers and UWA raid my home," she said, referring to Uganda Wildlife Authority. 

Justin Okema a community leader in Apaa village said: "This is another Myanmar. The world is silent about us, but God is not silent.” He was referring to the attacks on the Rohingya in Myanmar, the Muslim minority which was driven out during an ethnic cleansing campaign by the military and armed civilians in Myanmar. "We Acholi people we don’t have gun, but Madi people are being armed by Uganda soldiers." Okema added: “Each day at dawn the UPDF and rangers from Moyo and Adjumani districts cross the river Nile and raid our homes. The marauding raider sweep anything; goats, chicken and food stuff."

He said the soldiers put the plundered goods are looted on a local boat and ferry them to the Rhino camp landing site. He said last week a boat capsized and two soldiers drowned because the vessel was overloaded with stolen items. He said 12 people, including soldiers and locally-trained militia members survived. 

The military operations on Apaa are said to be ordered by Gen. Moses Ali, who is Second Deputy Prime Minister in the Museveni regime, with the knowledge of the 4th Division Commander Brig. Emmanuel Kanyesigye who wrote to the registrar of the Gulu High Court questioning the validity of the 2012 Court order which restraining any action by security forces in Apaa.

Apaa parish is fertile and endowed with rich natural resources. According to a 2014 geological survey it contains gas, oil and uranium. It also contains the highly coveted Afzelia African tree.

Last week, a conference organized by the Ministry of Water and Environment at Bomah Hotel in Gulu city called for an end trading in protected species such as the Afzelia. It was established that Gen. Ali is involved in the trade. His two trucks loaded with Afzelia tree logs were initially impounded in Gulu but released in two days. 

The illegal eviction campaigns by Museveni's army have continued since 2012 putting about 26,000 civilians in the area in jeopardy. During this period, more than 30 civilians have been killed; and 59 have been injured. Many civilians have gone missing.

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