Lamwo, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Suspected South Sudan security personnel are reportedly chasing Ugandan farmers from their gardens at the borders with Lamwo district.
Reports indicate that the gunmen believed to be coming from Owiny-Kibul and Ingiji in the Central Equatorial State of South Sudan have in the past weeks made separate incursions into Uganda and chased farmers from their gardens in the border areas of Nyimur in Lamwo district.
Moses Billi, the Palabek Nyimur sub county chairperson says that over 100 farmers who had embarked on intensive sim-sim cultivation in the villages of Mudu West, Mudu North and Waligo in Paracele parish have since been evicted by the armed groups. The majority of the farmers who hail from different sub counties within Lamwo districts and the neighbouring districts of Kitgum, Pader, Agago and Gulu usually pitch camp for months at the border where the farmlands are vast and presumed too fertile.
According to Billi, the armed groups claim that the areas where the Ugandan farmers who have already cultivated an estimated 250 hectares of farmlands are part of the South Sudan territory.
Rose Mary Lalam, one of the affected farmers alleges that South Sudan personnel have been extorting them and charging them between 100,000 to 200,000 Shillings for their purported illegal entry into their land. Lalam says most of the affected farmers who have since abandoned their farmlands are counting losses since it’s unlikely that they will be able to harvest their crops.
Doris Abalo, the district secretary for Production and Natural Resources says that initial reports also indicate that some affected farmers hired land from the South Sudanese who later denied having reached any agreements with them. According to Abalo, some unscrupulous people who unfortunately also include local leaders from South Sudan have as well taken advantage of the situation to defraud the unsuspecting farmers by evicting them.
Nyimur sub county councilor James Ochola who also doubles as the Lamwo district speaker says they have since convened two inter-border meetings with their counterparts in South Sudan and the border communities to stop the vice but such efforts seem not yielding positive results.
Ochola warns that if not addressed, the situation could lead to a wider conflict between South Sudan and Uganda and wants the two states to explore actual territorial boundary demarcation in order to resolve all cross-border disputes.
Lamwo Resident District Commissioner James Nabinson Kidega says that discussions are already underway with his counterparts in South Sudan to ensure that the matter is addressed. Kidega adds that claims of extortion and preventing farmers from accessing their gardens are also being investigated.
However, David Otto Rabson, the Magwi County Commissioner accuses Ugandan authorities of encouraging farmers to forcefully encroach on South Sudan land and ignoring all efforts put in place to stop illegal activities. According to Otto, Ugandan authorities have been on spot for orchestrating illegal activities that include, causing arrests of South Sudan nationals while crossing the borders, engaging in cultivation and Illegal logging in their territorial boundaries.
The incident comes barely weeks after 42 farmers were apprehended while cultivating in the areas of Polwa and Ocwet villages in Pogee Pajok Bomah believed to be within the South Sudan territory in Ayachi County, Eastern Equatorial State. They were briefly detained in the South Sudan Peoples’ Defence Force (SSPDF) 42nd Battalion Command Base in Pogee town in Ayachi County and later released following negotiations between authorities of both countries.
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