YUMBE. Security personnel in Yumbe district last week intervened to foil a planned demonstration by the community of Kei sub county over the depletion of Mt Kei Forest reserve.

Mt Kei Forest reserve has become a controversial issue with many people encroaching on it and top leaders being accused of trading in the forest products.

Kei sub county council in a recent council meeting resolved to hold a peaceful demonstration against the individuals who are allegedly depleting the forest but the permission was not granted.

The leaders had prepared messages on the environment on the placards waiting for the demonstration to start but they became disappointed when the team led by the resident district commissioner (RDC) took long to arrive raising suspicion that something might have gone wrong with their plan of demonstration.

Mr Al-adil Andama, the Kei sub county production and natural resources chairperson who represented the sub county chairperson said the council resolved to hold a peaceful protest against the encroachers and the National Forestry Authority (NFA) officials for the continuous depletion of the forest.

"We have been constrained from solving this matter as the sub county but we needed the interventions of the district because NFA officials are behind this business and they cannot take any action. NFA has no working relationship with the sub county thus no community sensitisation about their roles in protecting the environment", he said.

He said the NFA officials use eviction as a cover to protect their interests of destroying the forest cover for logs, timber and charcoal as they trade on these forest products.

Mr Charles Okoto, the district police commander said they got the information of the planned demonstration but the documentation they received didn't indicate who they were protesting against.

"We had an intelligence report that the community had bought petrol to go and burn ready charcoal in the forest in their planned demonstration but as police in Uganda, we are mandated to protect life and property. So we have come here to stop you(community) from organising this demonstration but we should rather come up with a better way of handling the problem," he said.

He said charcoal burning undergoes a long process for a person to get the final product(charcoal) but people keep quite over it which means some of you (community) are involved in the business.

Okoto said the vehicles that enter and leave Kei forest use the road but not air so it would be good if the mobilisation strategy used for this demonstration is done to coordinate issues of transporting these products and impounding them would be good.

Mr Ashraf Ajobe, the district internal security officer said the activity the leaders of Kei sub county intended to do differ from what is contained in the letter written to the Inspector General of Police(IGP).

"The sub county leaders planned to go for monitoring activity in the forest reserve and we accepted to join them including the NFA officials but our efforts were frustrated by the letter which was written to the IGP requesting for permission to go for peaceful demonstration", he said.

"When someone writes to IGP for demonstration, you have to wait for clearance. So the two different communications distorted everything which needs another planning," he added.

He said the issue of Kei Forest reserve needs a collective effort because the forest reserve borders the sub counties of Ludara in Koboko district, Kei, Midigo and Kerwa in Yumbe district.

Ms Marta Tiko, a women activist said the issue of Kei Forest reserve is a serious matter but the people in the office take it very simple.

She said people come all the way from Kampala with their documents to cut the trees here in Kei Forest reserve. 

"Our historical trees have all gone. If the community intervenes to impound trucks loaded with the forest products, they end up being threatened", she said.

"The efforts of the community in fighting the illegal forest product business have been frustrated. A number of trucks impounded with charcoal have been released with the orders from the high authority", she added.

Tipa LA tipa lorry impounded with sacs of charcoal being parked at Kei subcounty headquarters. PHOTO BY ROBERT ELEMA.

Ms Caroline Angolere, the Yumbe RDC said the action the leaders took of writing to the IGP ignoring the district leaders was wrong.

She said on March 12, they sat with NFA over the issue of the forest reserve and the environment management issue.

"My team since March 12 to date has been handling the issues of the forest management in this district. I want to tell you that the people of Kei have failed to manage the forest and the community who gives us information are people from outside Kei but people within keep watching the trucks moving with the forest products", she said.

She added: "We need to protect the environment because it benefits us all and I think there is a need to overhaul the entire leadership of NFA because I am seeing gaps. How can we identify a problem and we are not able to solve them? so there are gaps in the leadership of NFA".

It has been established that over 25,000square kilometres of the land in Kei Forest reserve has been destroyed.

The district leadership with the NFA in a recent meeting agreed that people should begin leaving the forest reserve voluntarily starting on April, 12.