Five people have been arrested following a violent protest at Maruzi Ranch in Apac District.
Those arrested included Mr Alex Okello, 35, Mr Jackson Omara, 28, Mr Yakobo Okao, 18, Mr Calvin Opeto, 32, and Ocen Odugu, 49. The suspects were reportedly taken to an army detach at Acholi-inn Landing Site in Akokoro Sub-county.
The district speaker, Mr Peter Obong Acuda, told Daily Monitor on Sunday that those arrested were engaged in a fist fight as they attempted to resist the ongoing eviction being spearheaded by security agencies.
This newspaper has learnt that misunderstandings between the locals and district leaders cropped up soon after the latter entered into a memorandum of understanding with an Asian firm to develop the area.
Mr Obong confirmed that the government then started clearing the site to pave way for such an ambitious project. The locals who have been occupying the ranch after they fled the prolonged conflict in northern Uganda were given ample time to harvest their crops and vacate the land.
The government also promised to give each of them Shs400, 000 as transport facilitation to allow relocation, the district speaker added.
However, majority benefited from the money but a few rejected the offer and opted to protest against the eviction.
On January 10, some people allegedly attacked those who had shown willingness to vacate the ranch. They said those who pocketed the money betrayed them.
The police intervened but they were overpowered by the rowdy locals, Mr Obong explained. This prompted the police to ask for reinforcement, leading to the deployment of Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) soldiers. It was at this point that five people suspected of leading the protest against the “peaceful” eviction were apprehended, he added.
Mr Denish Hamson Okello, an eyewitness, told Daily Monitor that soldiers fired teargas and live bullets to disperse more than 200 locals who had staged a protest at the ranch.
“We rejected Shs400, 000 resettlement package the UPDF soldiers were giving out to persuade us to vacate the land and some of our friends were arrested. Most of us were born in this area and we have nowhere to go. So, government should first fully compensate us before any eviction,” Mr Okello said.
Mr Charles Ogang, an elder in the area said the 64 Square miles of land was occupied by the clans of Ongoda, Oyima and Ogora in 1964 before it was given to the government for the establishment of the present Maruzi ranch.
But the district speaker, who is also a representative of Akororo Sub-county in which the government ranch also sits on its part of the land, maintained the ranch belongs to government.
The head of the security in the district, Ms Beatrice Akello, who is also the Resident District Commissioner, claimed she did not know of the arrests made but acknowledged that the eviction kicked off last December.
Capt C.O Wacha, the operation commander at the ranch, declined to comment on the matter.
“You can call our public relations officer, I think he can brief you on the matter,” he said on phone on Monday.
However, when contacted, the UPDF 5 Division spokesperson, Capt Lawrence Draga, said: “I have not got any information and Capt Wacha is the one on ground.”
The north Kyoga regional police spokesperson, Mr David Ongom Mudong, said their officers in Apac had not briefed him about any arrest in Maruzi ranch.