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Gen. Otema faces fresh grilling over land grabbing

UPDF Reserve Force Commander, Maj Gen. Charles Otema Awany, is set to appear in court again over allegations of land grabbing and violent eviction September 3(FILE PHOTO)

KAMPALA – The Land probe team is on Monday, September 3, slated to question the UPDF Reserve Force Commander, Maj Gen. Charles Otema Awanyi, again over allegations of land grabbing and violent eviction of more than 6,000 households.

The incident, according to information before Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters, happened in Purongo and Apwoyo Sub-counties in Nwoya District.

The general was first questioned last Friday about how he acquired the land, which has separately been a point of flash tribal clashes between the Alur and Acholi.

The Commission ordered the Maj Gen Otema to return today with documented evidence of his ownership of the land.

It is alleged that between March and April, this year, the UPDF Reserve Force commander deployed armed men to execute unlawful evictions where he later allegedly grabbed hectares of land.

He is accused of encroaching on Jonam land comprised in several villages of Purongo and Got Apwoyo sub-counties.

Gen Otema is jointly accused with a group of people including another soldier identified as Capt. Martin Labeja, Nwoya District Water Engineer Okumu Anywar and Iraq based Dr Fred Oola among others of fraudulently acquiring their titles on their unsurveyed land, which he later on allegedly grabbed.

Evidence presented before the Justice Catherine Bamugemereire-led commission shows that the land in dispute is comprised of 28 villages bordering River Nile on the lower side where it separates from Pakwach District and Murchison National game Park.

Mr Jathim Pyerino, 66, one of the victims who lost property worth millions on a 48-acre land that he owned customarily testified that armed soldiers and workers from Gen. Otema’s farm attacked, burnt his house and tortured him before they abandoned him in Police cells in Anaka.

Among the property destroyed during the violent evictions include a newly constructed government aided Obira Primary school with teachers’ quarters, churches, mosques, plantations, homesteads and a Kazanaku Trading centre at the River Nile shore which borders Nwoya and Pakwach districts at the lower sides.

He said Gen Otema is to blame for the violent March and April incidents this year, commanded by DPC Okello that forced people to flee their land and property to neighbouring Pakwach District to save their lives.

Gen Otema is accused of having deployed soldiers to jointly work with DPC Okello to block people from accessing their land.

“I was attacked and arrested, my house was burnt and the armed men beat me into a coma under the watch of the district police commander of Nwoya. All my property was robbed, my animals were taken and now my plantations have been harvested by those men without my consent,” said Mr Pyerino, a former resident of Obira South, accusing the police and the local government authorities of abandoning them and failure to recognise and respect them as nationals.

Mr Pyerino lamented that all efforts to find justice through courts of law against their tormentors have since failed.

“After people being kicked out and brutalised, the land is surrounded by soldiers and no one can go back to that land. The people who were arrested were told that the soldiers are sent by Maj. Gen Otema and he deployed civilians with guns to patrol the land which he calls his farm,” testified Mr Pyerino adding that several people have since been arrested, tortured and others died in custody.

Commission speaks

Meanwhile, Justice Bamugemereire has said that the commission will hear evidence from all parties named in the dispute before advising government on the measures of solving the impasse.

“We would like to warn anybody who would want to cause danger to Mr Pyerino and other complainants that the big eye of government and the commission are open on you. This man deserves to be protected and we do not want to hear that after testifying he was threatened,” the judge ordered.

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