Lamwo, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | South Sudan officials have extorted up to Shillings 5.7 million from Ugandan farmers in Lamwo district to access their farmland since July this year, an investigation by security has revealed.
The investigations show that 35 farmers from the district fell victim of extortion to access their gardens in the disputed areas of Akwera and Apine bordering volatile South Sudan.
The areas under contention are in Ngomoromo village in Lokung Sub County but currently being occupied by South Sudan residents from Pajok and security forces who claim its ownership.
The officer in charge of Ngomoromo Police Post, Francis Obalim, says South Sudan residents accompanied by government security personnel and leaders have been registering Ugandans who intend to farm in the area.
He notes that those extorting money from the farmers are based in Poger and Parapadwanya, where over 200 Ugandans have since been registered as residents by South Sudan officials.
He says 35 Ugandan farmers who accepted the registration were charged between Shillings 40,000 to 200,000 depending on the size of the land, adding that 18 who rejected have been chased away.
According to Obalim, although some of the farmers have already paid and planted their crops, it is unlikely that they will be able to harvest them since they are again asked to pay.
A farmer, who declined to be named for fear of reprisal, says he paid Shillings 200,000 to farm on land that has been their ancestral home since 1971.
He says he has planted simsim in the garden and expects to get about Shillings 7 million after selling it. He however says he is skeptical whether those manning the land will allow him to harvest the simsim, arguing that incase he is blocked; his family will be greatly affected.
The Lamwo Resident District Commissioner, Nabinson Kidega, says their investigations have since established that the farmers are hiring land from a ‘tycoon’ who forcefully invaded the fertile area inside Uganda’s territorial boundaries.
Kidega says about 100 farmers have been affected by the illegal act and notes that he has since held meetings with the Torit state Governor to ensure the vice is dealt with for purposes of ensuring peace and security.
Security officials in the district have since named four people from South Sudan over the extortion. They are Jildo Okello, a leader in Poger, Kijur and Okee, all officials at Ayaci County and Okwera, a Police officer attached to Poger Check Point in Torit state.
Charles Okumu, the Ayaci County Commissioner, told URN that he is yet to receive any report of extortion in the area. “I haven’t got any report that people are paying money to farm, may be that report is with the Lamwo RDC, find it with him,” said Okumu.
The unsettled boundary dispute at Ngomoromo has over the years seen invasions of armed men from South Sudan claiming its ownership. In 2015, about 300 armed men dressed in South Sudan army uniforms invaded the area, about 11 kilometers into Lamwo displacing more than 400 residents.
Since 2016 following the renewed civil unrest in South Sudan, the work of an 18-member AU led Joint Technical Committee (JTC) established on Delimitation and Demarcation of Uganda South Sudan international Borderline has been hanging in balance.