Ugandan churches defend forests and condemn racial attacks

By Ecumenical News International
April 18, 2007

Church leaders are opposing a government plan allowing sugar growing in part of Mabira Forest in central Uganda, while they have also condemned violent protests and racial attacks that resulted in three deaths and an attack on a Hindu temple - writes Fredrick Nzwili.

"I am joining other church leaders in Uganda in saying Mabira should stay," Anglican Bishop Stanley Ntagali of Masindi-Kitara told Ecumenical News International from western Uganda on 16 April 2007. "There is no other forest like it in the country."

Ugandan police on the same day said they arrested four people suspected of involvement in the killing of an Indian man during violent protests four days earlier over the granting of the sugar concession in the forest. Two protestors were reportedly shot dead by police during the fracas.

The government plans to change the status of one third of the forest in central Uganda and to grant a concession for 7,100 hectares to the Sugar Corporation of Uganda, owned by a family from Uganda's Indian community. It will allow for increased sugar cane production.

President Yoweri Museveni said on 12 April he would not be swayed on the issue, and he accused opponents of the plan of demonstrating over nothing.

"I hope the president is hearing the voices of the people," Ntagali said. He noted that cutting down parts of the forest could affect the weather and damage water catchment areas including that of the River Nile.

At the same time another church leader urged that protests should be peaceful, after an Indian man riding a motorbike during the protests was stoned to death. Demonstrators threw stones and sticks at a Hindu Temple.

Roman Catholic Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga of Kampala condemned the racial violence and warned that targeting Indians could provoke anger in their home country.

Earlier this month (April 2007), the Uganda Joint Christian Council issued a statement saying: "If the government cares to listen, it should have realized by now that Ugandans are decidedly against the idea of giving away Mabira forest." The grouping includes Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox churches.

[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]

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