Authorities in Nakasongola District and the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) are investigating circumstances under which a woman suspected to be a fish dealer died in a scuffle involving soldiers under the Fisheries Protection Unit (FPU) and residents of Kyebisiire fish landing site in Lwampanga Sub County.
Residents claim Justine Naiga, a resident of Buruuli quarters in Nakasongola Town Council was on Monday clobbered to death by soldiers during a scuffle that left eight others seriously hurt.
However, Capt. Rugumayo Araali, the FPU spokesperson in the area says Naiga was part of a mob that tried to disarm a soldier during an operation mounted at Kisaalizi landing site in search of the illegal fishing gear.
“We had an operation at Kyebisiire village where one of our soldiers was cut on the right arm by a mob that tried to disarm him. The deceased was part of the mob. The soldiers overpowered the mob and rescued their colleague who is nursing wounds sustained in this particular confrontation by the mob that we believed to be part of the people we suspect to have some illegal fishing gear. We are waiting for postmortem report to ascertain the cause her death,” Capt. Rugumayo told Daily Monitor in a telephone interview on Wednesday.
Fishing on Lake Kyoga was suspended by FPU in April to allow soldiers register fishermen and also enable them acquire standard boats and fishing gear. Although the suspension was to last for two months it has persisted to date.
On Monday, an emergency meeting that was convened by the Nakasongola District security committee and attended by UPDF representatives at Kyebisiire Village condemned the continued brutality meted against residents at their respective homes but demanded that the residents respect the fishing ban on the lake Kyoga waters until December when the normal fishing activity is expected to resume.
Nakasongola District Chairperson, Mr Samuel Kigula said the meeting highlighted the recent Presidential directive for the soldiers to stop acts of torture of civilians and have all cases allegedly committed by individual soldiers investigated.
“It is unfortunate that we have continued to get reports about torture acts including the unfortunate incident that involved the death of Justine Naiga. We have received information that the deceased who has been a fish dealer had been cautioned against the illegal fishing by the army. We are yet to get a comprehensive report on this particular incident,” Ms Kigula told the Daily Monitor on Wednesday.
On October 17,the State Minister for Defence Col Charles Engola addressed a stakeholders’ meeting at Kasambya landing site in Kalungi Sub county, Nakasongola District where he apologized on behalf of government and the UPDF for acts of torture allegedly executed by soldiers against civilians but also cautioned the civilians who continue to cross the red line and engage in the illegal fishing.
The minister told the meeting that President Museveni had directed the UPDF to quickly investigate the cases of torture against civilians and immediately stop the torture acts reminding the UPDF that it’s a ‘Peoples’ Army’.
In a related development two fishermen operating at Mayanzi Landing site in Kigungu sub ward in Entebbe Municipality accused soldiers attached to FPU of clobbering them to near death.
Aggrey Awori and Mr Alex Abitegeka said they were brutally beaten by the soldiers who accused them of illegal fishing.
Mr Awori whom we found at his home in Kigungu with broken limbs told Daily Monitor that two army men identified only as Musiitwa and Vincent intercepted them near Lwamunyu Island at around 5pm and beat them for over three hours.
“They didn’t even allow us to explain to them. They beat us with wooden sticks we had in our boat until they all broke into pieces. I don’t see why the army would beat us to the extent of breaking our hands and legs. The fish we had in the boat was of the reasonable size. I think their aim was to take our fish and boat engine,” Awori who’s seemingly in excruciating pain narrated.
The Entebbe deputy mayor, Mr Richard Ssekyondo condemned the soldiers’ actions and said the two fishermen should have been arrested and taken to police if they had committed any crime.
“As leaders we condemn what the army did. If at all they caught them in illegal fishing the way they claim, why didn’t they arrest them and take them to police instead of beating them, stealing their fish and engine!” wondered Mr Ssekyondo.
However, when contacted, the FPU commander, Lt Col James Nuwagaba said he would investigate the claims.
“I’m not aware of anything because I haven’t been around but Iam going to investigate the matter and find out,’’ he said.
FPU was formed by President Museveni in January 2017, to crack down on illegal fishing activities on Ugandan water bodies, which was blamed for the dwindling fish stock in the country.
Although the work of soldiers under FPU has been commended by a section of stakeholders in the fisheries sub-sector, many politicians and fishermen have criticised them over their high-handedness in dealing with people suspected of engaging in illegal fishing.
During FPU operations, people suspected of dealing in immature fish have been arrested and several ungazetted landing sites destroyed on the shores of lakes Victoria and Kyoga.