Pader, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Residents of Angagura, Ajan, and Laguti Sub Counties in Pader district are protesting the opening of the original boundaries of Aswa Ranch by the National Animal Genetic Resources Centre and Data Bank (NAGRC & DB).
Last week, residents arrested two surveyors for illegally planting mark stones on part of their private land without their consent. The Laguti Sub County LCIII Chairperson Robert Okumu says the suspects identified as Moreen Kobugabe and another accomplice, are both attached to Mitulan Surveyors Uganda Limited, a company contracted by NAGRC to survey, map, and demarcate land reportedly belonging to the Aswa Ranch.
Okumu says at the time of their arrest the suspects, had already planted mark stones stretching through the villages of Kalili, Lakwor, Lagotoywec, Lakalanganya to Otwara at the banks of River Pager that borders Tumangu village in Labongo Akwang Sub County, Kitgum district.
According to Okumu, the suspects reportedly disguised as employees of the Uganda Electricity Transmission Company Limited (UETCL) who were conducting a feasibility study of connecting electric power from Aswa Hydro Power Projects to Palabek Gem in Lamwo district.
The Pader District Police Commander Ramadhan Tai says that the suspects were released on police bond following advice from the Resident State Attorney since there was no complainant who had recorded a statement in the case.
According to Tai, a criminal charge of criminal trespass recorded under CRB 488/2021 has been registered at Pader Central Police Station pending further investigations.
Residents of Angagura Sub County are now accusing the police of unconditionally releasing the suspects and supporting land grabbing.
Regina Latoo, one of the affected residents of Laraba says hundreds of locals of Obito, Akelikongo, and Lalem villages in Pungole parish in Angagura Sub County have been enclosed within part of land presumed to belong to the ranch. Latoo says residents are now calling for the suspension of the exercise of mapping and reopening the boundaries of the ranch since the exercise is not in the interests of their community.
The Ajan Sub County LCIII Chairperson Christopher Mwaka says close to 1,000 households in the villages of Paibwro, Tungtwon, Lapono, and Onin in Paibwor parish were facing threats and intimidation for opposing any impending forced evictions by the surveyors.
The Aswa Ranch Manager Dr. Peter Emmanuel Eriaku however denied knowledge of any land grabbing claims saying the exercise stems from a stakeholder meeting between local leaders, residents, and management who agreed to embark on the exercise. According to Eriaku, a similar exercise was started last year but the boundary opening was halted over complaints from residents.
Eriaku says the exercise is being done in accordance with demarcating the actual boundaries of the ranch to avoid any future encroachment on public land.
The Executive Director of NAGRC Dr. Peter Baine condemned the arrests, saying the surveyors were implementing a recommendation from parliament to protect public land from unnecessary encroachment.