Ugandans displaced by UK company landgrab: Oxfam

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At least 22,500 Ugandans were forced from their homes to make way for a British timber company, the aid agency Oxfam said in a report Thursday calling for an investigation into alleged abuses.

London-based New Forests Company signed a deal with Ugandan authorities to develop 20,000 hectares of timber plantations in 2004, resulting in often violent evictions from the Namwasa and Luwunga forest reserves, Oxfam said.

"The people evicted from the land are desperate, having been driven into poverty and landlessness," the report read, noting evictions stopped in July 2010.

"In some instances they say they were subjected to violence and their property, crops, and livestock destroyed," it added.

While both Ugandan officials and the company say that the people were living illegally on the land, many of those evicted claim that they were granted the right to live there by previous governments decades ago.

"When they told us to leave, many had nowhere to go, so we resisted. We were evicted in a violent way. (Armed men) slashed my banana plantation and destroyed my home," one mother of eight told Oxfam.

Despite hopes local residents would receive compensation or be resettled, and a 2009 court injunction stopping the evictions, none of the displaced people received compensation, the report says.

"I have lost what I owned. Where I am now, my kids cry every day. I cannot sustain them and they do not go to school. Even eating has become a problem," another former resident told Oxfam.

Founded in 2004 and part owned by HSBC bank, New Forests Company aims to become the biggest forester in East Africa and has received a 5 million euro ($6.7 million) loan from the EU's European Investment Bank to develop one of its Uganda plantations.

© 2011 AFP

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