The Natural Resource Conservation Network together with Police in conjunction with Uganda Wildlife Authority recently arrested Major Allen Rutagira (Black T-shirt) and Corporal Collins Kamugisha, both Uganda Peoples Defence Forces staff under the Special Forces Command (SFC), while selling 21.5kgs of pure elephant ivory.
The duo and others were finally arrested on Thursday March 24 at Hotel Africana Kampala after long time investigations by conservationists and police and according to a release by one Laban Muhindo, the arrested SFC officers are attached to Entebbe International Airport, raising suspicions that they might have obtained the contraband from the vaults at the Airport. The SFC is an elite unit that among others provides guards for the President, his family and for all strategic installations in the country.
Meanwhile, according to Muhindo, Cpl Kamugisha`s confession led to the arrest of George Otika an accountant at Entebbe Handling Services, Able Bamonjobora, a State House driver and Simon Mbonye, a miner and businessman in Kampala who was waiting for the money from the transaction and was arrested at a petrol station in Kampala. Mbonye said the contraband belongs to Alex Sande, a businessman who was also arrested later on the same day.
The four civilian suspects are detained at Central Police Station waiting to appear in court as the hunt for their counterparts intensifies while the soldiers were first detained at the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) in Kireka but later transferred to Nalufenya Police Station in Jinja.
These tusks could be part of the one impounded ton of tusks that disappeared from UWA stores in 2014. The ivory tusks had previously been confiscated from traffickers at various sites in Uganda. UWA had also collected some of the ivory from elephants dying of old age.
Uganda is among African countries that have been struggling to curb widespread poaching of elephant tusks by well-armed criminal gangs for shipment to Asia, where they fetch thousands of dollars per kilo for use in ornaments and medicine.
Last month, Entebbe Magistrate’s court sentenced five Vietnamese nationals Hoang Manh Hong 31, Thai Xuan Sanh 26, Nguyen Mau Manh 34, Ha Van Ba 36, and Troong Cong Dinh 29 to a 3-years jail term over attempted smuggling of ivory and rhino horns and unlawful possession of protected species. They were also fined a sum of Shs10million (approximately $2,950).
Hoang Manh Hoang and Thai xuan sanh were arrested at Entebbe International Airport on November 30, 2015 as they reportedly attempted to smuggle out two wooden boxes containing 36kgs of ivory and 3kgs of rhino horns valued at Shs637, 560,000 (approximately $187,520).
In her ruling Entebbe Chief magistrate Kaitesi Mary stated that the Vietnamese used Uganda as a conduit to smuggle illegal goods out to their country.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists elephants as ‘critically endangered’ after their numbers dropped drastically to an estimated 5,000 last year.
CITES lists elephants in Appendix I (18/01/1990), and environmentalists say the elephants could be extinct within three decades unless they are protected.