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Parliament directs Army to stay in Bugoma forest

Speaker Rebecca Kadaga has asked UPDF to maintain the camp in Bugoma forest. (PHOTO/File)

KAMPALA – Parliament through the Speaker, Rebecca Kadaga has asked the Defence Minister to ensure that the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) maintain camp in Bugoma forest.

The forest is located in Hoima district, the forces will now occupy the tree land until the Minister of Water and Environment can update the nation on steps being taken by Government to secure the forest from encroachers.

Hon Kadaga’s directive followed a concern raised by Andrew Kaluya (Kigulu County) who warned that 70,000 hectares were being encroached on by Bunyoro Kingdom and other companies and that the National Forest Authority has only 48 personnel attached to its Force, which number if minimal forcing the Authority to seek backup from both the army and police.

However, Kaluya said that the commander of the army at the forest has threatened to withdraw his forces citing pressure from top shots in Government, “If UPDF withdraws and Police, they will remain with nothing. The commander is under immense pressure to withdraw and he is insisting he is going to withdraw if his superiors insist to do so. I want assurance that these forces will not withdraw. We are trying to investigate so many forests all these forests are being attacked by land grabbers. I pray NFA is given force that rhymes with their force. Even as they wait to hear what comes out of the court, these people are already using the land.”

Hon Kadaga tasked the Minister of Water and Environment, Sam Cheptoris to explain why Government hasn’t moved swiftly to save the forest arguing, “I don’t know why government is reluctant at addressing this issue. You can imagine cutting down the whole forest. Who is behind the withdrawal, we could find out the owner of the sugarcane factory.”

Waira Kyewalabye asked Government to demarcate that forest arguing that protecting the forest physically isn’t enough.

Speaker however replied that it wouldn’t be within Parliament’s powers to issue such directives and asked the Minister to issue a statement, “We can’t direct that, let the Minister come and update us. The people of Uganda would like to know the stake at Bugoma forest. Please keep them there until the Minister updates us. This is a serious matter.”

Recently, High Court rejected the application to halt the destruction of 22 square kilometres of Bugoma Forest in Hoima District, ruling that the land belongs to Hoima Sugar Limited and Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom and that the company was free to start sugarcane growing.

The controversial ruling was issued by Masindi High Court Judge Musene who dismissed an application in which the National Forestry Authority (NFA) had sought a temporary order halting the move to clear the forest for sugarcane with Justice Musene noting that there was no need to grant an injunction to NFA because the land under contention is not part of the forest reserve.

Justice Musene defended his ruling on grounds that Hoima Sugar Limited was making losses and NFA was free to reclaim the land after ruling on their appeal is held in the Authority’s favour.

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