ENCROACHERS have started leaving Namwasa forest reserve in Mubende district ahead of the February deadline set by President Yoweri Museveni.
According to Museveniâ€™s directive, encroachment was curtailing a large-scale tree planting initiative by the New Forests Company.
Kisita Mining Company, another group, has also been prospecting for gold in the reserve since 2001. Museveni launched the tree planting drive in 2007.
â€œPeople have started leaving the forest voluntarily before the deadline,â€ said Hudson Andrua, the acting head of the National Forestry Authority (NFA).
The third Deputy Prime Minister, Kirunda Kivejinja, led an inter-ministerial committee on December 11 last year that ordered the encroachers to leave the forest. This was followed by the deployment of the Police backed by 12 UPDF soldiers on December 17.
Prior to Kivejinjaâ€™s intervention, the environment minister, Maria Mutagamba, had asked the Prime Minister, Apolo Nsibambi, to form an inter-ministerial committee to implement Museveniâ€™s directive.In the directive, Museveni ordered Mutagamba to identify the encroachers on the land.
â€œEnsure that no new people settle within the reserve by registering the present encroachers and clearly demarcating the boundaries,â€ Museveni stated.
â€œRegularly monitor the boundaries and sensitise the masses on the importance of forests to the environment and the economy of the country,â€ he added.
Museveni also ordered Mutagamba to liaise with the relevant ministries to investigate and apprehend culprits involved in the fraudulent selling and allocation of land within the forest.
Moses Watasa, the NFA spokesperson, said the encroachers were given time to harvest their crops and were stopped from planting more.
Mubende RDC Nsubuga Bewayo said most of the encroachers were Rwandan.
Namwasa reserve is about 9,000 hectares.
A total of 8,104 hectares were allocated to the New Forests Company four years ago. The encroachers have been resisting eviction since the creation of the forest authority.
According to the authority, the population of encroachers was about 80,000 in 2005, but this increased to 320,000 last year.
Encroachers leave Namwasa forest