Police in Rukungiri District has kicked off investigations into the ongoing secret plunder of Imaramagambo Forest.
The Uganda Police opened up a General Inquiry File to investigate and bring to book the people behind the attack on the forest.
Imaramagambo South Forest is located in Rukungiri District but a big chuck of it stretches up to Mitooma and Rubirizi Districts making it one of the biggest natural forests in Uganda.
Moses Nanoka, the Rukungiri District Police Commander confirmed the police investigation, noting that because no one formally filed a complaint, they decided to open up a General Enquiry File (GEF).
The Police action to open up a file follows complaints raised by a cross section of people and environmentalist on alleged vast cutting of trees in Imaramagambo.
Wycliff Kahigimu, the Kakoni village LC 1 Chairperson in Bwambara Sub County in Rukungiri District says tree cutting has been ongoing but no resident can access the area since it is heavily guarded.
He says those that have dared raise questions have received threats and that even one resident who went into the forest recently has gone missing.
Kahigima identified the missing resident who is now presumed dead as Mwebe Johnson who disappeared on March 23rd 2020.
He reportedly went in with two other colleagues and were captured by the tree loggers.
While the two managed to escape, Mwebe has never been seen again.
Rev. Jackson Kanyeihamba the Parish Priest of Kakoni Church of Uganda says the residents approached him for advice and counselling after the disappearance of Mwebe in late March 2020.
When contacted to comment on this story, Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) Senior Communications Officer Bashir Hangi said Imaramagambo Forest is under management of National Forest Authority (NFA) although part of it is in the National Park under Kigezi Reserve.
“We as UWA don’t manage the forest because that’s the preserve of National Forest Authority and they are better placed to answer your query” Hangi said.
The National Forest Authority Spokesperson Aisha Albhahi said she was not aware of any loggers in the Imaramagambo South Forest and promised to cross check and get back.
Erisa Kasirabo the Head of Environmental Protection in the Uganda Police force says they have since dispatched a team to verify the reports of indiscriminate tree cutting not only in Imaramagambo Forest but also in Bukakata Forest in Masaka district which is also under threat by suspected loggers.
“I will personally travel to Imaramagambo to verify the forest plundering claims” Kasirabo said.
He however said that he was not aware if anyone had disappeared or died at the hands of the loggers because no one has ever reported to the Police about the matter and that’s why he advised the Police to open a general enquiry file.
Colonel Allan Kyagungu The Head of Strategic Natural Resources in the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) was surprised that a forest like Imaramagambo could be plundered without the UPDF personnel knowing.
“That’s a serious matter which should not be left to go, plundering a national resource is not acceptable in our Uganda of today because we have the mandate to protect it” Col. Kyagungu said.
A credible anonymous source confided to our reporter says that he has been seeing a Fuso truck registration number UBA 378M ferrying the tree products like timber, charcoal, building materials and walking sticks to unknown destinations.
Dan Ayebazibwe Kaguta the Rukungiri RDC was non-committal when contacted, saying he would soon address the media over the matter.
Meanwhile, the Rukungiri District Executive Committee will convene on Tuesday May 12th to discuss issues related to Media reports about the plunder of imaramagambo Forest.