Police Blocks Leader of Opposition From Visiting Apaa

Opposition leader in parliament Aol Betty Ocan speaks with police after she and a team of parliamentarians she had led were blocked from visiitng Apaa (Photo from from Facebook page of Leader of Opposition)

The police on Thursday blocked Leader of Opposition in Parliament also Gulu Municipality Woman Member of Parliament Betty Aol Ocan from accessing the contentious Apaa land bordering Amuru and Adjumani district.

Ms Ocan had led a team of eleven opposition members of Parliament on a fact- finding mission in Apaa.

The visit of the MPs follows resurgence of clashes on the disputed land that has left several people injured, 40 huts razed and thousands in revenge and counter revenge attacks between communities in Amuru and Adjumani district.

Last week four people from Adjumani were injured and 13 huts burnt near Goro River in Mgbai village, Itirikwa Sub-county.

The legislators who had intended to visit the affected communities in Apaa were blocked by heavily armed Anti-riot police officers led by the Adjumani District Police Commander Ahmed Seguya Kimera.

The MPs were stopped from proceeding to Apaa on grounds that they were entering Adjumani district without getting authorization from the district security committee and political leaders.

Speaking to Acholi Times, Ms Acan said the move to block them by police is an indication that the government is aware of what is happening in Apaa and wants to block the opposition from finding out facts on the ground.

Ocan further said the team of MPs had been cleared by the Speaker and Clerk of parliament to visit Apaa adding that the trip was facilitated by parliament.

“Our visit is an official visit; the eleven legislators were not only Acholi but a representation from all the districts in the country. It’s a shame that the security forces blocked elected leaders who wanted to understand what is happening in Apaa from the locals,” Ocan said.

The Leader of Opposition said she will report back to parliament her encounter with security forces

The Adjumani DPC, Mr Kimera when contacted refuted claims that the police blocked the opposition legislators from accessing Adjumani district.

Kimera instead said the letter authorizing the MPs said they would visit Amuru and not Adjumani.

“The letter authorizing the legislators was written by the clerk to parliament to the Amuru Chief Administrative Officer indicating they would meet the locals in Amuru district. We were surprised that the leaders chose to cross into Adjumani district,” said DPC Kimera.

The DPC explained that he advised the leaders to seek for another letter from the Clerk to Parliament authorizing them to meet locals in Adjumani.

“We didn’t stop them, we just advised them to go back and get a letter, if they come with letter indicating their visit is in Adjumani, they will be free,” Mr Kimera said.

Since 2012, Apaa has been a hotbed of violent clashes between the Acholi and Madi ethnic groups, with each claiming ownership of the strip of fertile piece of land that is estimated to be around 40 square miles. Uganda Wildlife Authority [UWA] and National Forestry Authority [NFA] also claims the land as East Madi Wildlife Game Reserve and Zoka Central Forest respectively.

An estimated 26,000 people are currently settled on the disputed piece of land

At least 18 people have so far been killed in clashes over the land with more than 814 grass thatched huts burnt and properties worth millions of shillings looted and destroyed by both government forces and unknown locals.

About the land

Government maintains that the area in question is a protected East Madi Wildlife Game reserve and Zoka Central Forest Reserve respectively that was gazetted by parliament in 1963, a theory backed by the Adjumani district local government officials.

Local leaders in Amuru district however say the decision to evict locals from the land is a ploy by government to grab the land and hand it over to an investor Bruce Martin to establish a sports hunting business.

In 2006, Martin Bruce who is the proprietor of Lake Albert Safari Lodge won a 20 year concession from Uganda Wildlife Authority-UWA to manage the 900 square kilometer East Madi game reserve.  He however, abandoned the concession in 2012 citing poaching and land feuds with the local communities.

The investor had planned to multiply the limited amount of game animals in East Madi area to provide opportunities for regulated trophy hunting.