Northern Uganda leaders are facing a big challenge resolving post-LRA insurgency land disputes. It affects communities who returned from the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps. Apart from land disputes among the communities, the UPDF has been cited for helping in sustaining and escalating these conflicts.
Such is the case in Nwoya District, of Lungulu Sub-county, the communities are living in fear due to the presence of soldiers who have camped in their area since 23rd March, 2017. They are on land allegedly belonging to Alipayo Opiyo Oloya, who allegedly lives in Canada, and is in conflict with the villagers.
The conflict over the 1,000-acre piece claimed by Oloya, started in 2008 as the people from IDP camps returned. They were returning to re-settle in their land that they had vacated during the two-decade’ old LRA insurgency. At a heated meeting last week, the villagers demanded an explanation from the leaders to explain the presence of UPDF soldiers on the disputed land.
Lucy Adong, a resident on the disputed land, says her crops and huts have been destroyed several times by soldiers deployed in their area. Adong’s children are not in school because her crops that would bring her money to pay for her children in school were destroyed in the previous season by the soldiers. “Since I returned home in 2006, I have never had peace in my home because soldiers guarding this land keep destroying my crops and huts. Now, that they are back, I am scared that they might destroy my property again,” Adong added.
Margaret Akello, the women leader in charge of land use, said that the presence of soldiers is re-awakening the chilling days of the LRA war. “We are just from a painful war with fresh memories of atrocities committed on us here. Why do they bring the soldiers here again to torment us?”
Christine Auma, the women area councilor representing Lungulu, tasked the Chairman LCV, Patrick Okello Oryema, who was present at the meeting, to explain to the community reasons behind the presence of soldiers. Oryem responded saying that: “I talked to the detach commander and he told me they were for normal deployment as UPDF.
I told him they were in a position where their presence could be misunderstood as a conflict over the land they have built their detachment on. I gave them one week to find an alternative place to settle as we settle the land dispute. If they do not vacate within one week, then we shall take the UPDF to be part of the land conflict and take another step to solve the issue.”
However, Lt. Hassan Kato, the UPDF 4th Division Spokesperson denied awareness of any UPDF deployment or detachment in Alingiri Village and promised to get back to the media with more information after consultations. But Auma was not convinced. “As leaders, our people are demanding to know why the soldiers were brought here during the planting season. There is conflict over this land and we are not sure who is carrying the documents. Our people demand to know whether the UPDF are now part of the conflict because of their presence on the land.”
Denis Odong, a Lungulu Sub county CouncilorV, refuted explanations from the detachment commander, Sergeant Banji Bajaru. Bajaru told the LCV in a private meeting at their new detachment that their presence in the area was normal deployment as UPDF to provide security to locals in the area.
Odong says that, since Alingiri is peaceful, there was no need for the deployment. He only said that such deployment in a disputed land is causing fear among residents that they may be attacked in their homes at any time.
Odong believes that the UPDF are taking side in the land conflict. “We have land conflict. Why is the detachment not in another person’s land in another area, where there is no conflict? Why, here, where communities are already afraid of seeing soldiers?”
Four Months ago, the minister of State for Lands, Persis Namuganza, issued customary land certificates to residents of Nwoya District after demarcating 8,000 hectares of land in different areas in a bid to reduce land disputes in the district. This has, however, not lessened the disputes.