One young man was killed by a stray bullet that was fired by a police officer during a scuffle in which residents tried to block a wetland demarcation exercise in Namakole wetland, Mbale district on Tuesday.
John Robert Tukei, the Elgon Region Police Spokesperson confirmed to The Sunrise that the youngman identified as Hassan Mukasa, was mistakenly killed by a stray bullet that was fired by their officer during the operation as anti-riot police tried to disperse angry residents who had blocked a mapping exercise that covered some eight villages in Namanyonyi sub-county in Mbale district.
“We regret the death of this young boy he was not part of the demonstrators but accidentally the bullet hit him” said Tukei.
When the news of Mukasa’s death reached his grandmother, identified as Khasifa Khainza, she also collapsed and died instantly, residents have told The Sunrise.
During the funeral of the dual on Wednesday, angry residents vowed to fight till the end. “I want to assure the RDC, DPC and other security officers that we residents of Namanyonyi shall not lose twice. a son and land that we bought. We shall die here I want them to find us here and kill us we are ready to die” one resident said.
Origins of crisis
The loss of lives stems from a fight over a wetland which the government claims was illegally occupied because it is a wetland, a claim that residents reject.
The disputed land covers over eight villages in Namanyonyi and Nakaloke Sub County.
On Tuesday a team backed by the Ministry of Water and Environment in collaboration with International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) embarked on the process of restoring the Namakole Wetland by demarcating its boundaries.
By residents wielding machetes and sticks mobilized and surrounded the surveyors, blocking the exercise.
The ministry team along with the surveyors withdrew as anti-riot police intervened to calm the situation. Police fired tear-gas and live bullets to disperse angry protesters.
In the scuffle, Mukasa, who was standing several meters away from the protesters was hit by a bullet that killed him instantly.
Led by Aisha, a section of women faulted government of not negotiating with them with the view to compensating them as they had allegedly promised earlier.
“Our LC 3 chairman deceived us that we shall be compensated but now instead of coming with negotiators, we are seeing police” one lady said
Mbale District Environment Officer Charles Wakube, the project focal point person assured the public that the rioters are not the land owners and therefore cannot stop the project. He explained that they will engage the community leaders to identify the land owners and plan how to proceed.
“We have not withdrawn from the project, People were rioting. We had to pause and ask the leaders who are rioting in reply they have told us these are not the land owners so we are going back and shall come back later” he said
Abas Were, the Gombolola Internal Security Officer-GISO, blamed the situation to lack of sensitization of the residents saying that the project was abruptly introduced.
Sizomu Rabi Wambende, the Bungokho North Member of Parliament wondered why police would fire live bullets at people who were not armed saying that people could have been arrested instead.
“Those people (surveyors) were illegal because I was not even aware about their coming, I curse each and everybody who was part of the project” he said.