Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The Commission of Inquiry into land matters has started investigating circumstances under which the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces occupied part of Barifa Forest in Arua District.
The land has been under controversy since 2010 when it was first occupied by Gen Salim Saleh, the then Commander of Reserve Forces. Gen Saleh had reportedly occupied the land upon securing a temporary occupational permit from the National Forestry Authority –NFA to carry out eco-friendly activities in the forest.
It later emerged that the activities included setting up a base for paying gratuity arrears to ex-servicemen, an undertaking held in the run-up to the February 2011 general elections. After the elections, Gen. Saleh handed the facilities and over 10 acres of the part of the cleared Barifa land to the UPDF who has since established a detach to date.
During the same time, a group of Russian investors, supported by the then Resident District Commissioner –RDC Ibrahim Abiriga cleared about 400 square meters of the same forest. Later, Abiriga said that the area belonged to ex-combatants and as such, had been renamed the West Nile Ex-Combatants Memorial site.
Close to a decade later, the people of Arua are pleading with the land probe team to help the district reclaim the part of the forest that Gen. Salim Saleh seized. The plea was made by more than 200 people who attended a public hearing convened by the commission led by Justice Catherine Bamugemereire at Arua police grounds on Tuesday.
They demanded that the commission takes time and effort to understand and resolve some of the land issues that have persisted in the district for several years. Justice Bamugemereire said the commission had taken a keen interest in the matter and intends to probe the same to a logical conclusion.
Our reporter in Arua says that the contested land is currently used by the ruling National Resistance Movement –NRM party to conduct various party and national activities.
However, Arua Municipal Council had earlier requested the National Forestry Authority (NFA) and the National Environment Management Authority-NEMA to degazatte the forest to pave way for the creation of an eco-city in the area.
The municipal council had also gone ahead to buy a piece of land in Logiri Sub-county to relocate the forest. But the move was blocked by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) after a cabinet directive.