Gulu. The government has heavily deployed soldiers and police in Amuru District as it schemes how to open the boundaries of 10,000 hectares of land for Madhvani Group.
Mr Gilbert Olanya, a Member of Parliament representing Kilak County where the earmarked land is located, said yesterday that “residents have been harassed and coerced so that they can heed to the demand (to surrender land), but the residents have stood their ground not to be intimidated,” he said by telephone.
Col Ronald Bivirwa, the UPDF 4th Division deputy commander, confirmed the troops’ placement that he said is to “bring sanity”.
“We have not beaten anybody as it’s alleged. We are here for peace. We do not want the Apaa incident (clashes) to happen,” he said in response to accusations that security forces were brutalising non-conformist civilians in Amuru.
The survey exercise being overseen directly by Lands minister Betty Amongi aborted last week after aggrieved women, among protesting residents, stripped in anger and blocked the road with logs.
The areas to be surveyed are Bombay, Bar-olam, Akee River, Kidi mon all in Kololo village and part of the 40,000 hectares encroached public land that Amuru District Land Board in 2006 offered for Amuru Sugar Works Ltd.
Three lawmakers from Acholi sub-region sued, but lost the case and a consent decree they executed following an out-of-court bargain preempted their appeal at the Court of Appeal, explaining how the government stepped in to acquire the land on behalf of the investor.
There was an earlier report that the surveying could start today, but Ms Amongi, who has camped in northern Uganda since last Tuesday, said she was unsure if this newspaper was a “friendly or enemy force” to share information with.
The survey, she said, will go on since there is a consensus among cultural, religious and majority political leaders in the area offer land for the sugarcane project.
This newspaper understands that minister Amongi and dissenting lawmakers have made preliminary contact, but there is no dead. She yesterday said: “The elements that have been telling lies fear to be exposed; that is why they mobilised people to block the (survey) exercise”.
Appearing on NTV’s Talk of the Nation talk show on Saturday night, Mr Otto denied the charge and said they were not opposed to the development project but the manner in which the government plans to snap up the land for the investor and bypass its owners.
Madhvani Group says it wants the land to establish a sugarcane plantation and sugar factory, but its acquisition has remained wet in the wings due to local resistance.
Last week’s planned boundary opening aborted on the back of demonstrations that minister Amongi and police said MPs Odonga Otto, Lucy Akello, Lucy Aciro and Olanya organised.
Gunshots and teargas were fired to disperse the protestors and MP Otto was taken into police custody who released him on bond pending charges of inciting violence.
Regional police commander Bosco Otim said they stepped up deployment because Amuru residents “willing to give land to government were being beaten and their food stuff and livestock looted by those who are opposed to the move”.