ADJUMANI: Zoka Forest activists cry foul over police ill-treatment

Mr Amacha Goli, the author of the story on the edge of Zoka forest

ADJUMANI, UGANDA: The team leader Friends of Zoka Mr Amanzuru William has called upon the law enforcement team in Zoka Central Forest Reserve to provide security for local environmentalists who have been voluntarily protecting Zoka forest from illegal activities.

Mr Amanzuru’s statement follows the recent arrest and detention of Mr Kasiano Leku and Mr William Iranya after they were falsely accused by a notorious illegal timber dealer after he was flushed out of the forest by the duo protectors of Zoka forest.

Mr Amanzuru while addressing journalists on November 30, 2022, at Ruyo Guest house condemned the manner in which the two-renown local environmental activists have been treated by the police and appealed to the top security echelons in the country to intervene and ensure the environmental activists are protected in the course of discharging their duties.

The preservationists were on November 23, 2022, arrested by the police at Zoka Central police station and transferred to Adjumani Central police station for further interrogation but they were released on police bond on November 26, 2022, after the investigations failed to establish incriminating evidence.

Mr William Iranya, a 26 years resident of Zoka central zone told journalists at Adjumani central police station that they detected the sound of a power saw machine in the protected forest which prompted them to rush for a patrol in the forest and found the suspect ferrying trees.

“We got one person indiscriminately felling trees and when we ordered him to sit down, he switched off the power saw and started running, we gave him a chase but when he realized we were gaining on him very fast he threw down the power saw and disappeared in the thicket”.

Mr WIlliam Iranya one of the Environmental activists speaking to DailyExpress after being released on police bond

Mr Iranya said when they widened the scope of the forest patrol they found a pile of 1,028 assorted sizes of timbers, and several tree trunks awaiting splitting.

He revealed that, as they were heading to Zoka Central police post to report what transpired in the forest the police cruelly arrested them and bundled them in a waiting patrol pick-up and the police declined to listen to our pleas.

“Several verbal death threats were issued to my father by some members of our community who also subscribe to the gang groups involved in the depletion of Zoka forest, unfortunately, the gang groups seem to be getting protection from the security team in Zoka area”.

The District Police Commander (DPC) Adjumani SP Benon Byamukama confirmed the arrest of the environmentalists and said while on their routine patrol they found Mr John Nambara deep inside Zoka forest harvesting trees for timber which is illegal.

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“The environmental activists tried to arrest Mr John Nambara and in the scuffle that ensured he claimed he was injured and he registered a case under SD ref 08/23/11/2022, which provoked the arrest of the duo suspects,” Byamukama said.

Impounded logs at Adjumani district headquarters

 Zoka central forest reserve is one of the 37 gazetted forest reserves in Nest Nile, it was gazetted in 1948 and covers an area of 6146 hectares. It’s the only tropical high rain forest in Northern Uganda outside the equator with unique features and flying squirrels

 The natural resources degradation witnessed in Adjumani is threatening protected areas such as Zoka central forest reserve and East Madi wildlife reserve which is directly affecting the ecosystem services and products which the neighbouring communities have relied on for their basic needs particularly food, shelter, and energy for cooking.

As one of the refugee hosting districts, the population pressure in Adjumani district is taking adverse toll on the existing scarce natural resources.

Aware of the numerous threats generating susceptibility on Zoka central forest reserve and the East Madi wildlife reserve particularly in the buffer zone, if not regulated, will create a safe haven for illegal loggers, lumberers and charcoal dealers leading to the extinction of Zoka Central Forest Reserve and East Madi Wild Life Reserve respectively.

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Over the years, Friends of Zoka an Environmental pressure group has been advocating for the protection of Zoka Central forest reserve and bringing the perpetrators to book. The pressure group advocated for the destruction or burning of all impounded charcoal, timbers and logs to serve as deterrence to the insolent and rebellious unlawful charcoal dealers.

On December 2, 2016, the Adjumani district council resolved that all commercial charcoal trade be banned and logging declared illegal but enforcement of the resolution became difficult as illegalities in the forest was allegedly being aided by some immoral commanders of security forces.

Several charcoal dealers from Central, Eastern, and Western Uganda invaded the Adjumani district when relative peace returned in the area after the 20 years of LRA insurgency, and efforts to stop them from depleting the trees were futile as many were allegedly operating on the invisible orders from above.

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