Uganda Security Forces Deny "Massacre" In Acholi Over Alleged "Land Grab" Confrontation

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Mzee Nekanori Pere,  80 years old, who survived the Apaa attack shows the wounds he sustained to the religious leaders and the army commander.

[Global: Africa]

By Okot Ronny Job and Okumu Langol Livingstone

13,000 Apaa Residents Fear Govt Scheme To Eject Them For Animal Hunting Grounds

Claims Bodies Of Dead Secretly Removed By Army

GULU, Uganda--Religious leaders in the northern part of Uganda rushed to Apaa the scene where earlier this week UPDF soldiers and police allegedly opened fire including on women with children in the ongoing protest by villagers who fear the government wants to steal their land.

An estimated 10 people were killed, possibly more, in what some villagers have labeled a "massacre" on Monday, claiming that military personnel opened live gunfire on unarmed civilians.

Some villagers claim soldiers had transferred bodies of others killed away from Apaa to Adjumani to conceal the true total casualties figure.

The Regional Police Commander, Okwanya, denied that any dead bodies had been transferred to Adjumani and also denied that there were police casualties in the clash. “"As far as I am concerned there are no dead bodies in our custody," he said. "We have 31 people who have been arrested during clashes. We have produced them to Gulu High Court and they are remanded in Gulu prison".”

At a separate interview at Pabbo Lacor health Center Santa Anek, 43, who was nursing a bullet wound on her leg, told The Black Star News how the attack unfolded.  She spoke while Lucy Akello, the Member of Parliament representing Women for Amuru, sat close by.

She said a group of women, including some with babies, were seated on the road at Apaa Trading Center. She said they were all in prayer, as part of the protest. Some were holding bibles, some had the holy rosary, while others held Oboke Olwedo; the branches from Oboke Olwedo tree are used as peace symbols by the Acholi.

She said she was in the second row of the women; according to the arrangement the single mothers were placed in the middle of the row. The first line of people were mothers who had young babies and young children.

Anek said the soldiers and police arrived at about 2PM in the afternoon and surrounded them.

"The UPDF ask all of us if we could talk to them, but people were praying. When we refused to talk to them they started firing at us at random," she said. "I did not know that I was wounded. But after running for a long distance then I realized that my back is bleeding and also I have blood flowing from my leg.”"

Anek said UPDF tankers drove towards the people and that the first teargas hit the first row with children. “"I saw the young baby about two years and many people got injury. Some run to the bush while four people who were shot fell to the ground dead,”" she said.

A nurse from Apaa Health Centre 111, who asked not to be identified said she saw three people who were shot by the UPDF being carried away during the clashes. She claims the bodies were dumped in the river.

The Apaa meeting was organized by the religious leaders and a local army commander Gen. Julius  Oketta where villagers aired their grievances and some showed wounds they say were sustained from beatings and gunfire from military personnel.

Martin Ojara Mapinduzi, the Gulu District Chairman wants an accounting of the number of people killed. "We have got information that there were many people killed and many people have run away in the bush with injury," he said. "We want government to account for the lost people, and we want their dead bodies".”

The religious leaders, including Al-Haji Musa Kelil, the Vice Chairman of Acholi Religious Peace Initiative demanded that the UPDF troops withdraw from Apaa region to diffuse tensions and explore solutions including a meeting with the president Gen. Yoweri Museveni.

The government claims that the troops are meant for the safety of government officials who are trying to demarcate land between Acholi and Madi districts but any visit by officials have met with fierce resistance by distrustful civilians.

Al-Haji Kelil further demanded that the marker stone that was apparently placed as the demarcation line by a government official or military personnel be removed since it was put "illegally."

"Th is mark stone is put without the consent of Acholi technical surveyors and no any Acholi politician was present as Kilak MP has been arrested," he said referring to the arrest of Member of Parliament Gilbert Olanya who had tried to travel to the region but was intercepted by soldiers and police.

"The hand that put mark stone, it the same hand that will remove the mark stone. Museveni's government will never be forever; we shall remove this mark stone",” Kelil warned.

The respected elder, Mzee Onek Atunya dismissed any talk of meeting with Gen. Museveni as a mediator of the land dispute.  He said the Acholi religious leaders are looking for an opportunity to benefit from the trouble of the people in Apaa. He said many pilgrims have traveled to Gen. Museveni’s palace in Rwakitura, his ancestral home, and nothing good had come from them.

Meanwhile the Acholi civilians have denounced Gen. Oketta as the purported mastermind behind the Apaa Acholi-Madi land grabbing conflict and claim he is now shedding crocodile tears by claiming he wants to mediate the conflict.

Gen. Oketta who is also the Member of Parliament representing the UPDF for the region held a closed door meeting in Gulu on Tuesday with local leaders, religious and cultural leaders from Acholi sub region and urged them to prevent another catastrophe similar to the Apaa mayhem.

Gen. Oketta said he wanted the Acholi Bishops to meet Museveni and convince him to put aside the  border demarcation issue. He wondered where the 13,000 villagers would go if the Ugandan government and the Adjumani local government started displacing them from their land.

Gen. Oketta claimed he had also been sending radio announcements via MEGA fm radio station "but I got conflicting information. I wanted to avert the problem, otherwise my people could have not died.”"

Karamela Anek, one of the women who protested in the nude in April when government officials, including Interior Minister Gen. Aronda Nyakairima who just died, visited the region castigated Gen. Oketta.

"I am the one who demonstrated naked here before the UPDF soldiers but now Museveni wants to kill me for the deed I have done. Kill me to make ritual ceremony. I have slept in the bush for two days when the UPDF and Uganda Police Forces open fire on us," she said. "I was chased like chicken. I have just come out".”

I am fearing arrest, because the UPDF soldiers have been looking for me since. They wanted to kill me like others who died during the clashes,”" she said.

Anek is Gen. Oketta's aunt. "My son, if I had known that you a’re going to intimidate us because now you are working with Museveni government as General me and your father we would have not labored to cultivate cotton to pay your fees,”" Anek added, referring to how she helped pay for Oketta's school fees when he was a boy.

She claimed she heard The UPDF soldiers wanted to arrest 60 people from Apaa and get another 50 from Adjumani district and force them all to sign documents that the they had agreed for the marker stone's placement.

In the same gathering, Yusuf Okwanga Adek, the Pageya chief, mocked the bishops and Gen. Oketta, for entertaining the thought of meeting Gen. Museveni.  He said he had not even been informed of this Apaa meeting because of his radical stance but heard about it and made his way there. "If Museveni had heart for the Acholi community why does he deploy Uganda security to slaughter us?" he asked.

"Oketta you are our son, remember the people you are killing is your people, when they are not there no one will know you," Adek said, referring to Gen. Oketta, who is also Acholi. "Instead of calling Madi chiefs to come and talk to us, you are planning with General Moses Ali to take our land,”" he said.

Gen. Ali, who is Second Deputy Prime Minister in the government together with Gen. Museveni, the president, are suspected as prime movers behind the land conflict.

"Why do you fear that man, are you not a general like him?" Adek asked Gen. Oketta, referring to Gen. Ali.

Many villagers believe the government wants to clear out the 13,000 people in Apaa and turn the area into a game park reservation, a complaint echoed by Nekanori Pere an 80-year-old man who survived the alleged attack by soldiers.  “"Museveni and Moses Ali favor Wildlife animals than the community of Apaa people," he said. "That is why he prefers Martin Bruce investment,” he said, referring to Bruce Martin, a South African who now operates game lodges and tours for hunters in Uganda.

"We have no problem with Madi community, they even know that the boundary between us is in Joka river since the war neighboring communities fought in 1924 to 1926 we have equally agreed that the our border is at river Joka," the old man, Pere, said.

Gen. Oketta later offered to donate food items and material assistance to the affected people of Apaa but it was rejected outright.

We cannot accept that. Even now our food which was left behind by our people some here claim that it has  been poisoned by security," Anek, the woman who hid in the bush for two days said.

Meanwhile the Adjumani Local Government authority brought the "Adjumani District" sign post to be put in Apaa where the marker stone referred to as "illegal" has been erected.

Since Gen. Ali has more influence in Adjumani it is widely suspected this will now make it easier for the Ugandan government to strike a deal with an investor such as Bruce Martin or others.

Meanwhile Member of Parliament Olanya has been released on bail.

He is charged with three counts including threatening violence, Inciting the public to cause death and destruction to property, and threatening to kill Amuru Local government chairman Omach Atube.

His sureties for the release are:  Ojara Martin Mapinduzi; Odonga Otto, MP Aruu County; Akol Anthony;  Akello Lucy, MP representing Women, Amuru district; Acire Christopher, MP Gulu Municipality; Atiko Bernard, MP, Ayubo County in Arua.  They each paid non cash bail of 2 million shillings each.


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