Uganda: President refuses to lift ban, evicts encroachers?

President Yoweri Museveni has declined to lift the ban on selling and leasing land in forest reserves pending a thorough review of previous allocations under tree planting permits. The temporary ban, according to environment minister Maria Mutagamba, might be lifted in March 2009. At the same time, the President has ordered the immediate eviction of encroachers from critical forests reserves.

Environment minister Maria Mutagamba said the evaluation process was going on and the evictions could kick off in March. She warned that “speculators” who have not planted trees three years after they got the lease, will lose their allocations. “We shall not hesitate to cancel their permits,” she warned. “We have been evaluating to find out how much land has been planted,” she said. “It is unfortunate that some people have not planted trees two or three years after they were allocated the land.” Mutagamba said when she met the President over the matter last week, she gave him a report on the tree planting programme. She will meet him again in January, she said. Museveni, according to Mutagamba, is concerned about the rampant encroachment on forest reserves. “The President is mainly concerned about the critical forests and the process of classifying forests has started,” Mutagamba said. Three years ago, the President issued an order halting the eviction of encroachers from protected areas. However, Mutagamba did not rule out giving away some forest reserves permanently, citing Kakyera sub-county. “Districts like Rakai will be asked to find land which can be gazetted for planting trees,” she said. The issue of encroachment is complex, Mutagamba added, because some people have stayed in the forest reserves for more than 50 years and have schools and health centres there.

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