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Parish chief among six killed in fierce Apaa land dispute

Adjumani, (UG): At least six individuals including an LCII Chairperson are reported to have been killed with 11 others sustaining severe injuries in distinct assaults arising from land disputes in Apaa township, located in the Adjumani district.

By Saturday morning, a joint search team comprising of the area police and local vigilantes had embarked on combing the bushes searching for the missing persons including James Igama the LC2 chairperson of Payaru Parish, who by press time was also feared dead.

These attacks, spanning three days from Thursday to Saturday, unfolded in the parishes of Oyanga, Luru, and Acholi Ber within the Itirikwa sub-county, Adjumani district.

Reports from security sources indicate that three of the deceased individuals originated from the central part of Uganda, while the remaining three were local Madi farmers. Unfortunately, their identities were not immediately available at the time of reporting.

Charles Okoya, the LC I chairperson of Apaa township, disclosed that the assailants, whose identities remain unknown, wielded machetes, bows, and arrows during the assaults.

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Okoya revealed that one victim was killed on Saturday around 5 pm in Luru parish, with the body burned beyond recognition.

Another person fell victim on Friday at approximately 11 am in Rwot Romo village. The three other victims, local Madi farmers, lost their lives between Thursday and Friday in Acholi Ber parish. Ongoing insecurity in the area has hindered efforts to transport the deceased bodies.

Eleven individuals suffered severe injuries during the attacks and are currently receiving medical treatment in various health facilities in Amuru and Adjumani districts.

The figures, however, could not be independently verified at the time of reporting.

Peter Taban Data, the Adjumani Resident District Commissioner, confirmed the attacks and noted that two additional people were still missing.

Taban reported the destruction of hundreds of makeshift structures and grass-thatched huts in the Zoka Central Forest Reserve during the attacks by unidentified arsonists. He said the significant deployment of the army in the affected areas to enhance security, with an ongoing investigation to ascertain the triggers and perpetrators of the attacks.

Residents Speak out

According to a brother of one of the victims who preferred anonymity, said, the Friday attack followed another that occurred earlier on Tuesday.

He also said they tried to notify authorities about the attack but the reaction was ‘too slow’ leading to the attackers escaping long before the Police arrived.

“If Police [had] reacted swiftly, the situation would have not been this bad, but we don’t know if it is because of the distance,” he said.

Some of the locals believe the attackers are the illegal encroachers of the East Ma’di wildlife reserve who have in the recent past turned the area into a hotbed of insecurity.

Mr Abraham Opira, also resident highlighted the panic among community members in neighbouring villages, leading to many fleeing their homes due to fears of retaliation. Opira urged increased deployment of army personnel to ensure the safety of lives and properties.

What UPDF says

Brig Michael Kabango, the commander of the 4th Infantry Division, visited the disputed area, meeting with affected individuals and local leaders.

These recent attacks follow an incident three months ago when unknown assailants killed four people in Te-Okono village between Acholi Ber and Punu Dyang parishes.

This brings the reported death toll to over 30 in separate attacks on the disputed Apaa land since 2012, as indicated by local leaders. Conflicts over the Apaa land date back to 2012 when the government initiated the forceful eviction of locals, claiming the area is a gazetted East Madi Wildlife Reserve managed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority.

The land is also contested by the National Forestry Authority as a gazetted Zoka Central Forest Reserve within Adjumani district.

Despite efforts by the government and various leaders, tensions persist between the Acholi and Madi communities.

In August of this year, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni commissioned the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the Apaa land conflicts, headed by retired Chief Justice Bart Katureebe, as a final attempt to resolve the disputes. However, the commission has yet to commence its on-site investigations.

Police speak out

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North-West Nile Police region spokesperson Ignatius Dragudu said Police intelligence and field force officers are on the ground to pick up clues and pursue the assailants.

“One dead body and Some of the abducted have been found in Amuru district, they are being repatriated back to Adjumani,” Dragudu said.

Early this year security officials from Adjumani cited the East Ma’di Wildlife Reserve including the restive Apaa area as a potential hideout for hell-bent criminals who are profiting from illegal logging and commercial charcoal burning inside Zoka Central Forest.

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