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Museveni Defends Plans To Transfer Ugandan Forests To Indian Group

East Africa's endangered gorillas make a steady comeback: WWF
Nairobi (AFP) April 20 - Highly-endangered mountain gorillas in the Eastern Africa region have shown a steady resurgence in the past decade due to conservation efforts, a wildlife group said Friday. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said currently there are 340 gorillas in Uganda's Bwindi Impenentrable National Park, home to nearly half of the world's remaining mountain gorillas. Although the figure represents a 12 percent growth in the past decade the WWF said "it is indicative of a healthy and well protected population."

Marc Languy of WWF's Eastern Africa regional programme said: "This is indeed great news for the survival of the mountain gorilla. "However, with only about 720 individual mountain gorillas surviving in the wild, more efforts are still needed to ensure these beautiful animals do not become extinct." Habitat encroachment and hunting in the eastern and northern Bwindi Impenetrable National park as well as civil wars in the region have been threatening the survival of the gorillas, the group said.

The primates are also found in the mountain ranges spanning Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and are a source of high revenue from tourism. However, early this year, rebels in the eastern DRC killed two solitary silverback gorillas, sparking fears among conservationists that the incidents could be a disaster for the species.

by Staff Writers
Kampala (AFP) April 20, 2007
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni Friday defended his backing for plans to clear forests to allow an Indian group to set up sugarcane plantations after rioting by green activists left three dead.

"We need to balance the needs of preserving the eco-system with the needs for social transformation - changing the society from peasant to middle class, skilled working class society," Museveni said in a commentary in the state-run New Vision newspaper.

"This means that the majority of the people should shift from agriculture to industries and services. Having too many people in agriculture as we do now (at 82 percent) is one of the characteristics of backwardness," Museveni said.

Museveni supports controversial plans to hand over 7,000 of the 30,000 hectares (75,000 acres) in Mabira Forest Reserve east of the capital Kampala to the Indian-owned Mehta Group to grow sugarcane.

The move has angered conservationists and opposition lawmakers, who have demonstrated recently against the handover.

On April 12, at least three people were killed in a demonstration to preserve the forest and last week, Ugandan police fired live bullets, tear gas canisters and arrested 23 people in a similar demonstation.

Two opposition lawmakers were charged with incitement, but enviromentalists have showed no sign of letting up.

Museveni said he targeted the forest land because there was no other land to plant sugarcane for industrial use.

"Why, then, use forest lands? This is because there is no free land. Much of the land is occupied by peasants who are engaged in traditional, subsistence farming. Both physically and legally we cannot access this land," he said.

Furious conservationists have warned that further encroachment of the forest would threaten up to 312 species of trees, 287 bird species and nearly 200 kinds of butterflies.

earlier related report
Ugandan MPs oppose plan for sugarcane plantation
Kampala (AFP) April 21 - Almost half of Uganda's lawmakers oppose a controversial proposal to allow forest land to become a sugarcane plantation, a newspaper reported Saturday.

A poll of 200 of the 332 members of parliament found that 81 percent, or 162 MPs in total, were against President Yoweri Museveni's plan, state-owned daily New Vision reported.

The project would see nearly a quarter of the 30,000-hectare (75,000-acre) Mabira Forest Reserve east of Kampala handed over to India's Mehta Group to grow sugar cane.

The government needs a simple majority in parliament to pass the measure but the proposal has angered conservationists and opposition lawmakers. On April 12, at least three people were killed in a demonstration to preserve the forest. Last week, Ugandan police fired live bullets and tear gas canisters and arrested 23 people in a similar protest.

Of those who rejected Museveni's plans in the poll, 72 percent were from his governing National Resistance Movement party.

Museveni defended the plan in a newspaper article on Friday, saying it would lead to industrial development and create jobs in the impoverished nation.

Conservationists have warned that further encroachment of the forest would threaten up to 312 species of trees, 287 bird species and nearly 200 kinds of butterflies.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Out Of Africa

Greater Use Of Biofuels Threatens Rain Forests
Madrid (AFP) April 18, 2007
Greater use of biofuels as an alternative to fossil fuels will threaten tropical rain forests, biodiversity and food security, environmentalists warned at a two-day summit on biofuels that wrapped up Wednesday in Madrid.

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