By Andrew Cohen Amvesi
ADJUMANI. There was drama at Olwi village center, Zoka parish in Itirikwa sub-county, Adjumani district on Thursday when police and the National Forestry Authority (NFA) officials accused each other of releasing the illegal loggers who were arrested while plundering Zoka central forest reserve early this week.
This was during a community meeting which was organized by the district councilors of Ukusijoni and Itirikwa sub counties in partnership with the Friends of Zoka, an organization established to protect Zoka central forest reserve from being plundered.
Trouble started when the members of the community demanded to know why the six suspects were released from police cells before being produced in court even when they were got with overwhelming evidence.
The suspects were identified as Michael Akena, 28, a resident of Gulu, Mukama Chemus, 32, a resident of Kamuli, Gerald Ssenguedo, 25, a resident of Kiboga and Chelstino Salasata, a resident of Apaa and two others who were also released by the police of Ajeri police post in Itirikwa sub-county.
When the locals continued mounting pressure, the child and family protection officer at Adjumani central police station, Rita Abiro, who represented Benon Byamukama, the Adjumani DPC was forced to reveal to the gathering that the suspects were released on orders of NFA staff on grounds that they have lost interest in the case.
“According to the information I have, I hear those people were released with instructions from the NFA. The officer who released them did not release them on his own,” Abiro said.
Abiro’s response prompted the NFA Manager Moyo sector, Simon Kidega to counter-accuse police for releasing the said suspects.
“Indeed, together with the vigilantes we arrested the six suspects on Monday and confiscated three power shows from them. We then handed over the suspects to police to have their statements recorded. We kept the machines so that police can process the file to be taken to court. But in the morning of Wednesday, I was notified that the suspects were released yet we did not instruct police to release them,” Kidega said.
“How can I arrest suspects and again be the same person to release them in an interval of one week, if we lost interest in the case, did we sign on the file, we don’t need to lie to the public, if a case has been withdrawn, is there any written document?” Kidega asked.
It is for this reason that Jesus Iranya, the Itirikwa sub county chairman said the community has completely lost interest in the police officers who released the suspects and recommended that the officers in question be transferred.
He also castigated NFA for failing to regulate the illegalities in Zoka central forest reserve which has been ongoing for a number of years.
William Amanzuru, the team leader Friends of Zoka commended the efforts of the authorities entrusted to protect Zoka central forest reserve including the Uganda people defense force (UPDF) and Uganda police.
“However, I am happy that the community has come out openly to say that it is the police and UPDF that is protecting the criminals depleting Zoka forest and they are willing to take up this matter,” Amanzuru said.
Gabriel Isadru., the district councilor representing Itirikwa sub-county who is also a member of Adjumani district natural resources committee said the act of NFA and police to release the suspects is frustrating the efforts of the community who usually volunteer to give them information.
“We need to start destroying the machines of the illegal loggers in Zoka forest so that they can feel the pain,” Isadru recommended.
Meanwhile Rokan Aaa Simba, the district councilor for Ukusijoni asked: “Which law permits people to enter the forest and destroy it, why have you allowed encroachers into wildlife-protected areas to destroy the forest?”
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