Thousands of IDPs in Mt Elgon
need help, say officials
KAPSOKWONY, 11 December 2007 (IRIN) - Thousands of civilians
displaced by violence related to land disputes in Mt Elgon,
western Kenya, need urgent assistance, according to local leaders.
"About 50 houses were destroyed today [10 December] in three
villages in Cheptais division," Wycliffe Chongin, a local church
leader, told IRIN at Kapsokwony, the Mt Elgon District
headquarters, after local officials met UN representatives.
During the meeting, chaired by District Commissioner Birik
Mohamed, several leaders said little effort had been made to help
the displaced, especially those who had sought refuge in
"The situation of women and children is especially pathetic," said
Janepher Mbatiany, an official of the Maendeleo Ya Wanawake
Organisation, a national women's group.
"What Mt Elgon needs most is peace, the displaced need to come
back home, children will need help to resume learning when schools
re-open; this is not possible without peace."
"We have appealed to the government to intervene and stop the
destruction of homes and instead go after the fighters in the bush,"
Chongin said. "The [dusk to dawn] curfew that was recently imposed
in the district is, for instance, hurting mostly civilians as
those caught violating it are charged KSh 3,000 [US$50]. What do
you do if you have to take a wounded person for treatment?"
Chongin alleged that security officers destroyed the houses in an
operation aimed at flushing out members of the Sabaot Land Defence
Force (SLDF), a key player in the year-old land-related conflict
that has ravaged the district. He said hundreds of displaced
people, who had initially fled violence in their homes in Kopsiro
Division, had been caught up in the latest security operations,
and become displaced again.
The conflict involves two main clans of the dominant Sabaot
community - the majority Soy clan and the minority Ndorobo clan -
and revolves around disputed government allocation of land to
squatters in a settlement scheme known as Chebyuk. The district
has an estimated population of 150,000.
According to the district commissioner, at least 45,000 people
have been displaced and 132 died since 2006.
However, he said although the situation was calm, "isolated"
incidents of insecurity were being experienced. He added that a
series of security operations had been launched, targeting SLDF
members, who operate from the bush and had acquired firearms from
a neighbouring country.
Mohamed was addressing members of the UN delegation, led by
Jeanine Cooper, head of the Kenya office of the UN Office for the
Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Representatives of
the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), UN Population Fund (UNFPA), UN
Development Programme (UNDP), Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS),
Kenya Human Rights Commission, European Union elections observer
mission, and the government's National Disaster Operation were
part of the delegation.
"We are in Mt Elgon to support the peace-building efforts on the
ground," Cooper said. "Through our local partners [NGOs and
government organisations] we would like to reinforce and support
activities aimed at bringing peace to the district."
Welcoming the efforts of the UN-led delegation to support
activities on the ground, Mohamed also appealed to the
international community to help vulnerable people in the district
by providing food items and non-food items.
On 4 December, the KRCS appealed for Ksh 1.2 million to help IDPs
for 12 months.
Aid workers said security operations had limited access to the
vulnerable in the past three weeks. "Violence has increased in the
past month but access to those affected has decreased because of
the ongoing security operations," an aid worker, who requested
anonymity, said. "At the moment we are getting reports of shooting
going on daily; there is a great need for not only relief aid but
However, Mohamed said the government was committed to the
protection of civilians and would not condone violence.
"As a government, we have put in place enough security measures to
counter the SLDF; it is the government's responsibility to protect
its citizens," he said. "We have worked out dialogue sessions to
try and reconcile the warring groups as we believe dialogue is the
best weapon to counter violence."
Mohamed said the root cause of the conflict was land but that it
had since become political as the country approaches general
elections on 27 December.
"We are appealing to all leaders in the district to approach the
elections in a peaceful manner; we have held meetings with
officials of the Electoral Commission of Kenya and we have put in
place measures to ensure that the polls are held in a free and
fair manner," Mohamed said.