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News from Mt Elgon (very disturbing...hopefully things are better now)

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  • Janet Feldman
    Residents Rejoice As Bombs Smoke Out Mt Elgon s Terrorist Militia The Nation (Nairobi) NEWS 25 March 2008 Posted to the web 24 March 2008 By Ken Opala Nairobi
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 25, 2008
      Residents Rejoice As Bombs Smoke Out Mt Elgon's Terrorist Militia

      The Nation (Nairobi)
      NEWS
      25 March 2008
      Posted to the web 24 March 2008

      By Ken Opala
      Nairobi

      For close to two years, the subjects of a makeshift government in Mount
      Elgon run by a militia group lived in fear and tears. The Sabaot Land
      Defence Force had killed more than 700 and displaced half of the district's
      160,000 people - mostly peasants.

      So, when the skies opened up last week and the rains poured down, signalling
      the onset of the planting season, few people had reason to cheer. However,
      the residents rejoiced when bombs dropped from the skies. The peasants and
      farmers who had lost their means of earning a livelihood through killings,
      extortion and stock theft, now turned "arresting officers".

      They started hunting down their "rulers" - the Sabaot Land Defence Force
      (SLDF) - like dogs, house to house, cave to cave, and from canyon to canyon.
      "The people themselves are pursuing and arresting the killers," said
      Cheptais district officer K Tirop, who was once attacked by the insurgents
      but was rescued before they could harm him.

      The army firepower has smoked the suspects, including a top commander, out
      of their hideouts and the public has arrested at least a dozen of them,
      according to Mt Elgon district commissioner Mohamed Birik. A suspect known
      only as Kones was arrested last Monday in Chesikaki with a book containing a
      list of names of people the SLDF had singled out for execution. He was
      tortured to death at Kapkota, a military command post outside Toroso High
      School, Cheptais, according to sources.

      The public also captured an elderly man dressed in school uniform to
      camouflage himself at Embakasi Trading Centre. He was handed over to
      security personnel. Following the series of arrests by the public, three
      suspected militia handed themselves in to the police last Wednesday. Four
      others were captured by the public the following day, according to sources
      in the area police.

      Kapsokwony DO Donald Koech said the public had captured two suspects at a
      place called Kamneru in Kapsokwony Division. "One key achievement of the
      operation is that it has removed fear from the people," DO Koech said.

      Indeed, the last fortnight has seen a drastic change of fortunes for the
      SLDF. The militia group ruled with unbridled brutality, slaughtering
      innocent people - not shooting them because they did not want to waste
      ammunition. They defied, threatened, humbled and then colluded with area
      police in their criminal activities.

      Some had the temerity to live at the headquarters of the Anti-Stock Theft
      Unit at Chemondi, just outside Kimama. There has since been an overhaul of
      the ASTU since the current military operation was launched. Innocent
      residents who defied SLDF's ban on drinking or those perceived to be
      informers were killed or had their hands and ears sliced off. Those who left
      their villages to work on neighbouring farms were punished by having their
      ears chopped off.

      Indeed, 59-year old Benson Momeh Ndiema, a father of nine, made the mistake
      of straying to the neighbouring village of Sasuri to earn a few coins. "As I
      returned home on July 6, 2007, at 5pm, I was ambushed by people armed with
      swords, knives, guns and pangas. I don't know how many they were," Mr Ndiema
      told this writer in Chesikaki, one of the most volatile areas in Mt Elgon.

      "I don't know what happened, but when I regained consciousness, I was at
      Chesikaki dispensary. My ear had been sliced off." A colleague who was with
      him at the time also lost his right ear. Mr Ndiema is lucky to be alive.
      The SLDF warns its victims not to go to hospitals for treatment or report
      their activities to the police.

      Those who disregard the warning are killed. A respected village elder,
      Nashon Warsama, and his wife were killed on Sunday - on the eve of the
      launch of the military operation. Highly-placed sources in the provincial
      administration said that a week after the military launched the operation, a
      number of militiamen held a meeting in Kimama and drew up a list of
      perceived informers among the community.

      They kidnapped a number of them but just as they were being led to the
      slaughter grounds in the forests, the military came to the rescue. The bombs
      came two weeks ago. They are now unlocking Mt Elgon's dirty past. Indeed,
      the caves and forests that hid bodies as well as militiamen, were opened by
      phosphorous-laden explosives unleashed by military gunships pounding Mt
      Elgon to rid the area of hundreds of suspected SLDF militia that have
      massacred hundreds of people in Mt Elgon, Bungoma and Trans Nzoia districts
      in just 18 months.

      A group that levied its own tax, extorted money from peasants and
      administered its own judicial system, is being hunted down like petty thugs.
      "These are killers of innocent people," says Charles Owino Wahong'o, the
      joint Military/Police Operation liaison officer. "We are going to pursue
      them until we get all of them, no matter how long it takes. We are not going
      to stop."

      He says the issue of land was just a smokescreen. "If it is about land, why
      are they killing people in Trans Nzoia and Bungoma? Why are they are moving
      out of the contentious settlement scheme? These are thugs." (The rebellion
      became known following a bungled land allocation in the Chebyuk Settlement
      Scheme Phase Three, in Kopsiro. Violence has made the area inhabitable.)

      Mt Elgon residents who had long submitted themselves to the militia's terror
      are now seeing another kind of ruthlessness. The number of people who have
      died at the hands of the joint military/police operation is unknown because
      the district is sealed off to journalists and relief agencies.

      Relief organisations can only venture on to Mt Elgon's fringes but they
      cannot speak to the media lest they antagonise the military. The military
      operation base at Kapkota is out of bounds to police and the provincial
      administration, said sources. In fact, the area police have complained of
      being kept in the dark about the operation.

      However, interviews with residents indicate that hundreds of suspects have
      died in the bombings and at the hands of military torturers. A source said
      "many" boys were bombed in a cave on Tuesday after defying an order to
      surrender.
      The Joint Military/Police Operation Command says nobody has been killed in
      the caves. "There are no bodies in the caves," says Wahong'o. "But our next
      plan is to go to the forests."

      Human rights activist Job Bwonya of the independent Western Kenya Human
      Rights Watch says he has documented 17 deaths at the hands of the military.
      Villages such as Chebwek, Kapkirongo, Sasuri and Chemondi are deserted. All
      the younger people have gone, leaving only the old men and women.

      This writer visited the areas. The apprehension, fear and tension is
      palpable. Not many residents want to be interviewed by the media for fear of
      upsetting the military. "We are seeing sunrise for the first time in two
      years," an old man who gave his name as Ndiema said, in apparent reference
      to the peace they now enjoy since the military and GSU overran Chebwek a
      fortnight ago.

      "But the boys have gone, they are finished. We don't know where they have
      gone, we cannot ask."

      In Chesikaki, 40-year old Rita Nasipwondi and 22-year old Dickson Wanyonyi
      are happy that the Government moved in to end the conflict. The two survived
      death at the hands of the militia on December 31, 2007, at Kimama. They
      witnessed 22 relatives being slaughtered as they waited their turn.

      Those who survived the bombings have had to go through elaborate
      interrogation at Kapkota, next to Toroso High School, where Wycliffe Komon
      Kirui Matakwei, the face of the SLDF, attended school in 1991 before
      dropping out the same year. Although he dropped out of school in Form One,
      he was able to set up a government funded by virtually all civil servants in
      the area and residents working elsewhere.

      Indeed, the people of Mt Elgon's fortunes have changed. Last week the long
      rains came. They pounded the area, signalling the planting season. From the
      skies also came the bombs, bringing a ray of light after 18 months of
      darkness.
      "We support this operation. The Government had taken too long to act. A
      military offensive was overdue," says rights activist Bwonya. "But we don't
      support torture. It violates local and international laws."

      Yet peace has a price. Mr Bwonya has documented 616 deaths, 118 abductions
      (111 killed), and 33 cases of those who had their ears chopped off by the
      militia since August 2006. This reign of terror was possible because the
      militia defied, threatened and subdued a 660-member special unit of the
      police.

      In fact, some police officers and chiefs were eventually assimilated into
      the rebel force. The militia had also infiltrated relief agencies - military
      recovered tents, food and seed. "These people killed innocent people, they
      killed police officers," says Wahong'o.

      In the meantime, the military has started rehabilitating Mt Elgon. It has
      set up medical camps and is rebuilding the roads to Chepkube and Toroso.
      ________________________________
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