Police in the island district of Kalangala are holding at least 14 people over engaging in illegal charcoal burning in the government central forest reserves.
The suspects, currently held at Kalangala Central Police Station, were reportedly found with 350 sacks of charcoal in Buwunge Forest Reserve in Bufumira Sub County.
According to Mr Alex Mpaata, a Police officer in charge of Environment protection enforcement in Kalangala Islands the suspects were arrested by his team that was conducting field patrols in government forests on Friday.
“We found them[suspects ] loading bags of charcoal on a boat which was destined for Kasenyi landing site in Entebbe ,” he said in an interview on Saturday morning.
He said the suspects are also believed to have been behind the killing of a police officer, Emmanuel Elwelu, on December 9, 2020.
The deceased, who was attached to Kalangala Central Police Station, reportedly died while chasing after charcoal burners in Funve Forest in Mazinga Sub-county.
“It is true we are also investigating them over that incident where our officer was killed by suspected charcoal burners,” he told Daily Monitor.
Meanwhile, locals accuse police and National Forestry Authority (NFA ) officers of selling mature trees in central forest reserves to timber dealers from Entebbe and Kampala .
Mr Fed Lugoloobi, a charcoal dealer told Daily Monitor that charcoal burning is allowed in some forests using timber offcuts locally known as ‘amakoko’- after acquiring permits from forestry officers.
“We strictly use off cuts from the timber legally got from the forests. Let police first handle the timber dealers instead of impounding our charcoal,” he said.
Mr Phillipson Mugumya, the NFA sector manager Kalangala District said: “We are still holding the suspects to help us get their colleagues still hiding in the forest. We want our people to know that forests are a no go area for charcoal burners .Even if the forest is privately owned, the person burning charcoal has to first seek permission from authorities.”
An environmental survey conducted in December 2019 by Kalangala District NGO Forum (Kadingo), a community based organisation, shows that the district had lost 2,080 acres of forest cover between 2017 and 2018 . Kalangala’s forest coverage acreage is about 2.2 million.
According to the survey, indiscriminate felling of trees is mostly done in central forest reserves where 1,580 acres had been destroyed in two years.
Some of the most depleted central forest reserves, according to the survey include; Funve in Mazinga Sub-county, Bunyama, Buswa and Kisujju in Bujumba Sub-county. Others are; Buuga, Tonde, Kitemu , Bugana, Ssekazinga and Butulume.
The massive cutting down of trees has led to precarious strong winds on Lake Victoria since forests that could act as wind breakers are destroyed. Depletion of forests has also disrupted wildlife and dangerous animals regularly invade homesteads for survival .