The continued arrival of refugees fleeing post-election violence and militia activities in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in western Uganda, and the government’s efforts to resettle them, have created a land row that has already cost the life of a government official.
Alphonse Nteziryayo, commander of Rwamwanja settlement, in Kamwenge district, had accompanied humanitarian aid workers to assess the land the government had set aside for the settlement of Congolese refugees in Uganda when he was attacked and killed by squatters, who had settled there.
Government officials say 100 police officers have been deployed to Oruchinga, Nakivale, Rwamwaja, Kyangwali and Kiryandongo refugee settlement camps to help quell the clashes and ensure the safety of the refugees.
"[The] government has moved to set up security in all the refugee settlements. This level of security shall be maintained until such a time when law and order shall be deemed to have returned to the settlements," Stephen Mallinga, Uganda’s Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, told IRIN.
An estimated 100-150 Congolese refugees cross into Uganda daily through Bunagana, Busanza and Nteko in Kisoro district, according to officials. Some 5,600 refugees have crossed into Uganda since November 2011 following a disputed presidential election.
Government officials told IRIN the dispute might hamper the quick resettlement of the refugees. The squatters' claim to the land hinges on a presidential directive, issued in 2009, that they be given part of the land.
"Each of the 25 encroachers occupies 5.2-7.8 sqkm, which they hire out to squatters to cultivate. They are resisting leaving the government land. This will definitely affect the [resettlement] exercise," Charles Bafaki, senior resettlement commander in the Office of the Prime Minister, said.
Area politicians accuse the minister of ignoring the presidential directive and of sending the government official to the disputed land without adequate security, despite the tensions.
"...He is trying to cover up his own actions and that of his staff that were violating the president’s directive... It’s them [government] who went back to the field and sent the old man [resettlement commander] in without security," Frank Tumwebaze, a legislator from the area, told IRIN.
The minister has, for his part, accused the politicians of inciting the squatters not to move off the land, and to attack government officers and aid workers. He insists the squatters had already been allocated land somewhere else.
"The encroachers are being supported by some politicians who want to gain political capital out of this unfortunate situation. Most of the encroachers are government officials or former government leaders who grabbed government land they were charged to protect," Malinga noted.