KAMPALA (Reuters) – Uganda has evicted more than 400 pastoralists from a patch of land in the Lake Albert rift basin, where oil has been found, after the government accused them of illegal occupation, police said on Tuesday.
Police ejected the herders over the last two days from areas around Buliisa district, police spokesman Vincent Ssekate said.
The evicted herders, who settled in the area long before oil was discovered, were offered transport to the various areas where government intends to resettle them.
For about three years the government has been struggling to remove the pastoralists, saying the land they were occupying belonged to another tribe. The group had petitioned the supreme court to stop the eviction.
“The supreme court ruled on October 24th that these pastoralists were occupying this land illegally and following that ruling we had to move in and evict them and that operation has been done,” Ssekate told Reuters.
Uganda struck commercial deposits of oil in 2006 in the Lake Albert rift basin along the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. London-listed Tullow Oil estimates the area contains more than 2 billion barrels in reserves.
Buliisa district hosts exploration block 2, which is owned by Tullow. The company’s spokesman, Jimmy Kiberu, said the land the pastoralists were occupying includes areas where exploration and appraisal activity is taking place.
A lawyer for the herders, Mukasa Lugalambi, however, claimed in an interview that senior government officials had acquired land around the oil fields and that self-interest was behind the move to evict his clients.
“The court ruling didn’t order that these people be forced to vacate their land, the court simply dismissed our case on grounds that it was improperly constituted, these are just oil politics,” he said.
Mukasa said they hoped to file a fresh petition against their eviction.
In an October 2010 report, Global Witness accused President Yoweri Museveni and his relatives of tightening their control of the country’s budding oil sector.