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Residents accuse UPDF of assault, sexual harassment

Kole residents have decried UPDF assault and harassment in Ilera Central forest reserve. URN photo

Kole, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Residents of Ilera Central forest reserve have accused UPDF soldiers deployed in the area of assault, intimidation and sexual harassment. Ilera Central forest reserve covers Bung, Okabo and Lela villages in Ilera parish, Ayer sub county, Kole district. In 2019, the National Forestry Authority-NFA demarcated the area, planted more trees and asked the residents to vacate. They instead ran to the high court claiming ownership of the land. In February this year, UPDF established a detach in the area to enforce the eviction process.

However, in the same month the High Court in Lira issued orders maintaining the status quo until the final disposal of the main suit. Court further issued a temporary injunction restraining NFA, its agents and workers from evicting the applicants from their residential and farming land, destroying applicant’s trees and crops and interfering with the status quo in anyway.

Now the locals allege that NFA and the UPDF soldiers are acting contrary to the court order and gone ahead to evict them from the said land whereas those who refused to leave have been physically assaulted, beaten and sexually harassed especially the women.

In their letter to the RDC, the residents through their leader, Martin Odongo claim that UPDF started beating people as soon as they arrived in the area. “Beating and displacement of the locals started as soon as the UPDF came on a low scale and later intensified to a much large scale and after two weeks, total eviction ensued,” the letter partly reads.

The letter further claims that the soldiers have recruited five young boys namely Douglas Ayo, Jasper Olol Okabo, Isaac Ojok Omara, Andrew Ayo Gira and Emmanuel Agom from within the community as informants who help them in executing their plans. However, the listed men have denied the allegations.

Florence Otyang, 72, who has since abandoned her home in Lela village and currently lives in the nearby Apii trading center accused the soldiers and Isaac Ojok of assaulting her at her current residence before dragging her to Apii outpost where she spent a night for no reason.

Lucky Erume, a resident of Lela village reported a case of sexual assault at police claiming that two soldiers who were being guided by a village mate identified as Ayo threatened to rape her when she refused to talk to them.

Denis Okuna, the parish chief who also accused the NFA of sidelining local leaders, says that the community has been stopped from accessing boreholes in the forest reserve. He however advised the community to remain calm and respectful especially now when the main suit is before court.

“The NFA team when they are coming here, they leave me out not knowing I supervise everyone here and now they have chased locals even from the water source leaving only a single borehole which was recently drilled outside the disputed land but I want to summon the locals to remain respectful like they used to because the matter is already before court,” he said.

Caroline Angolere, the Resident District Commissioner called for calm between the two parties saying local leaders should provide leadership in implementing the court orders as stipulated. She also wondered why the UPDF would stop locals from fetching water from boreholes within the forest reserve.

But Edward Kakonge, the UPDF enforcement commander in charge Aswa River Range denied the allegations, saying that the army officials are well trained and cannot harass community members. However, he was quick to note that government properties like the forest reserves must be protected at all times.

The villagers living in the area have for long been protesting the presence of the forest reserve, saying that land was home to their fore fathers and as such, government has no business there.



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