KIKUUBE – Bunyoro regional security agencies have met Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom officials as they launched an investigation into the ongoing land conflict between Hoima Sugar Limited and residents.
The meeting attracted regional security offers led by Julius Hakiiza, the Albertine Regional Police Spokesperson, Uganda Peoples Defense Forces (UPDF) led by Brigadier General, Daniel Kakono, the Bunyoro UPDF Artillery commandant, Kikuube Resident District Commissioner Amlan Tumusime and Peter Banura Kikuube district Chairman among others.
They visited the contested land on Wednesday and held an engagement with the affected residents in Kabwoya Sub-County, Kikuube district.
After the engagement with the residents, the security team met Bunyoro Kingdom officials who included the Prime Minister, Andrew Byakutaga at the kingdom administration offices in Hoima City.
The investigation was sparked off by the confrontation between Hoima Sugar Ltd and more than 500 residents from Rwenkobe, Kanyegaramire Nyirongo and Rwembaho villages, who are claiming part of the land which Hoima Sugar Ltd is preparing for sugarcane growing.
Last week, the residents invaded the gardens prepared by Hoima Sugar Ltd and started planting their crops such as beans, sorghum and maize. Such confrontations threatened the security of the district and forced district leaders of Kikuube to stop all activities on the land by both parties.
The residents led by John Kabandize of Kabandize and Co-Advocates told the security committee that the contested land was given to the residents by the Omukama of Bunyoro Kingdom, Solomon Iguru in 2001 and 2005
He says that they were surprised when the company also started claiming that the land was leased to them by the kingdom and vowed never to vacate the land.
Hoima Sugar Ltd is claiming that they got land from the Omukama of Bunyoro but the farmers disagree because it’s Omukama of Bunyoro who gave them the land.
The residents also accused the UPDF officers of guarding the cane plantation and beating the residents, raping, harassing and denying them access to their gardens and water sources.
Reacting to the claims of harassment, Julius Hakiiza, the Albertine police publicist appealed to the victims of torture to report the cases to Kikuube police station.
He says that all those who will be found guilty will be prosecuted in the courts of law adding that security is supposed to protect people and not torture them.
Addressing the press after meeting with the security officials, the Kingdom Prime Minister, Andrew Byakutaga, however could not confirm the rightful owner of the disputed piece of land and asked the security committee to give the kingdom two weeks to investigate the matter.
He noted that the Kingdom will form a committee which will visit the contested land and make consultation with the different stakeholders before issuing any statement.
He admitted that the Kingdom sold land to Hoima Sugar Limited but the boundaries are not clear and demanded that the government comes and opens the boundaries.
“The residents claim that this land had earlier in 2001 and 2005 been given to them by the kingdom and actually they claim that the king himself went there and gave them this land; so, we had to sit down and see how to resolve this matter,” said Byakutaga.
This same land in 2016, was leased to Hoima Sugar Ltd. Hoima Sugar Ltd has been trying to develop this place and the residents claim that Hoima Sugar Ltd is encroaching on the land which had been offered to them by the King.
Amlan Tumusiime, the Kikuube district resident commissioner says they are to write to the Minister of Lands to intervene by opening boundaries so as to solve the standoff.
He noted that though the Kingdom promised to investigate the matter and give us a report, there is a need to have boundary opening exercises to solve the conflict for good.
“This entire problem we are facing, will be solved the day government will come and open boundaries of the contested land. The boundaries will help us to know where the National Forestry Authority (NFA) land, residents and Hoima Sugar Ltd land starts and ends,” says Tumusiime.
However, Tumusiime warned the residents against taking the law into their hands and the security forces deployed in the area against harassing and torturing the residents.
He noted that they need peace in the area to ensure that they investigate the issue to the conclusion.
In 2016, Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom offered 22 square miles for a 99-years lease to Hoima Sugar Ltd to grow sugarcane.
National Forestry Authority (NFA) dragged Hoima Sugar Ltd to court challenging the occupancy of the said land. NFA claims that it was part of Bugoma forest reserve but on 25th April 2019, Masindi High Court ruled that Hoima Sugar Ltd was the rightful owner of the 22 square miles of land.
This ruling attracted massive protests from the residents and environmental activists across the globe that included European Union (EU) Ambassadors who last year visited the forest and condemned all those behind the destruction of the forest for sugarcane growing.
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