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Monday, 12 August, 2002, 10:54 GMT 11:54 UK
Mass forest eviction deadline in Uganda
Long horned cattle
The squatters' cattle harm the environment

Panic has gripped more than 10,000 people squatting in a remote forest west of the capital, Kampala.

They have been given three months' notice to leave the government-owned Luwunga Forest Reserve in Kiboga District.

Government officials accuse them of degrading the environment and of harbouring criminal gangs, such as members of the Interahamwe - Hutu militia fighters accused of carrying out the genocide in Rwanda - but the squatters deny this.

During my two-day visit to the reserve, which covers an area of approximately 56 sq km, I discovered a great deal of activity.

Some of them were busy weeding their gardens of bananas and coffee, while others were adding mud to their semi-permanent houses.

I saw the widespread felling of timber trees and the large scale burning of charcoal by the squatters.

They also owned many long horned cattle.

Squatters I spoke to say they are worried - and have nowhere else to go.

Blame

Members of local environmental groups and forestry officials in Kiboga and neighbouring districts of Hoima, Kibaale and Mubende told me that some reckless politicians were to blame for the huge presence of the squatters on the forest reserve.

68-year-old man
This 68-year-old man says he has no hope of finding land elsewhere
An environmental officer explained that in 1990 the government initiated a plan to evict the squatters from the Luwunga Forest reserve but the exercise had to be halted when parliamentary and the presidential elections kicked off.

The politicians wanted the 10,000 votes from the forest squatters.

But the government has now issued strongly worded notices to the squatters.

They have been given three months to vacate the forest reserve.

Other land

The Kiboga District Forestry Officer, Emmanuel Karuhogo, has been asked to team up with the police to carry out the evictions.

Luwunga Forest residents
The clock is ticking for the whole community

A security officer in Kiboga district claimed that some of the squatters are of Rwandan origin and have been inviting suspected criminal elements to join them in the forest reserve.

The security officer told me: "We do not want to give a chance to the remnants of the Rwandan Interahamwe to sneak into the forest and later cause us problems.

"We are going to ensure that not a single squatter remains in the forest."

But it remains to be seen whether by the end of October the Luwunga Forest Reserve will be swept clean of squatters.

Meanwhile, Kiboga District Council Chairman Kizito Nkugwa has said his administration is making arrangements to acquire land for the landless cattle keepers in the district.

The district council chairman said the land to be acquired belongs to absentee landlords who own land titles for huge chunks of undeveloped land in villages, but prefer to stay in Kampala where they work.

See also:

12 Jul 02 | Country profiles
12 Jul 02 | Country profiles
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