The Natural Conservation Resource Network has accused Ugandan security forces of shielding officers who engage in illegal wildlife trade.
Speaking after the arrest of a Special Forces Command soldier for trafficking ivory on Wednesday, NCRN public relations officer, Laban Muhindo, said it was hard to pin implicated officers because their organs protect them.
“We are trying to show people that animal trafficking is bad but our forces do not want us to expose their people,” Muhindo told journalists at Kira Road police station.
On Tuesday, after two months of investigations, NCRN officials and police arrested Julius Mugume, 42, an SFC officer attached to State House Nakasero, and Richard Tumwebaze, 27, a bar manager in Entebbe for alleged possession of 12kgs of ivory worth Shs 120m.
They were nabbed at Mackie’s restaurant in Kamwokya, Kampala. Police said Mugume was posing as a guard to the buyer, who escaped. On Wednesday morning, the conservationists and police agreed to parade both suspects before the press, but according to Muhindo, the police later appeared reluctant to expose the soldier.
They reportedly argued that revealing the identity of the SFC officer would jeopardise investigations. Muhindo said they have experienced such incidents in the past and have received threatening messages from high-ranking security officers.
“The biggest foreign exchange earner is tourism yet you don’t want people to know those involved in illegal business,” Muhindo said.
He further blamed Uganda Wildlife Authority for not doing enough in following up cases where security officers are implicated.
“We are intimidated by police and UPDF. UWA would have given us full support; they would be on top of this game now. They are supporting us but not fully,” he said.
Efforts to get a comment from army spokesman Paddy Ankunda were futile as he could not be reached by telephone. But police spokesman Fred Enanga advised NCRN to report its grievances to the force.
“We have systems in place. There is no implicated officer protected by police,” he said. “If someone is not contented with the work of a lower officer, they can report them to their superior officer.”
The UWA public relations officer, Jossy Muhangi, said they have always supported NCRN, but explained that sometimes investigations take time.
“We play different roles and theirs [police’s] is investigation; you cannot expedite police investigations.” Muhangi said some delays are caused by the law: “If a soldier is arrested, the army may say they want the suspect to face court martial. Unless the law has been amended, we may not influence certain issues.”