Govt to pay Shs780m for forest

Lira. High Court in Lira recently awarded Shs780 million to Mr Tom Apunyo, as compensation for his forest that was burnt down by the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) in 2004 during the Lord’s Resistance Army war, ending his 10-year quest for justice. Mr Apunyo, a resident of Junior Quarters in Lira Municipality, filed a legal suit against the ministry of Defence for damages caused on hisproperty and business investment.

He said the investment was valued at Shs780, 613, 500 million arising out of the malicious destruction of various species of trees on his farmland by UPDF in February 2004. Mr Apunyo had developed the more than 10 hectares of trees into a modern forest estate.

He told court in 2010, that his forest in Obim, Apala Sub-county in Alebtong District was maliciously burnt down by UPDF 73rd Battalion during their pursuit for LRA rebels.Mr Apunyo, also said following the destruction of the forest, the UPDF conducted an inquiry and made a report in which they unequivocally admitted liability.

He further informed court that the Special Investigation Branch of the UPDF in their correspondence to the Permanent Secretary ministry of Defence further admitted liability to destroying his forest and property and pledged to compensate him for the damages caused.

Army boss denies claimHowever, Maj Savvy Tumuhimbise, declared in an affidavit that following a complaint by the applicant to the Army Commander, a board of inquiry was set up to investigate the allegation.Maj Tumuhimbise, stated that the copy of the report Mr Apunyo supplied to court is a forgery that does not reflect the position of the ministry of Defence andor the government of Uganda.

But in his ruling, Justice Mugenyi, said the affidavit in reply is on same type of headed paper as the document presented by Mr Apunyo with UPDF headed paper with the word ‘RESTRICTED’ printed on the top of each page.

However, Judge Byabakama Mugenyi, noted in his ruling that Maj Tumuhimbise, who is now denying the report was a member of the board of inquiry headed by Lt Col Innocent Oula that penned a January 14, 2005 report stating the witnesses had reported to them about the burnt forest.

“I do not think the documents Mr Apunyo presented are forged as strongly argued by respondent’s counsel. This application is allowed and judgment on the said admission is hereby entered in favour of the applicantlaintiff for compensation,” Judge Mugyeni ruled.

SOURCE: Daily Monitor

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