News 2008


Kenya security forces attack land clash area

By John Komen

Mon 10 Mar 2008

ELDORET, Kenya (Reuters) - Kenyan military helicopters fired at targets in the Mount Elgon region on Monday to flush out gunmen suspected of killing at least 12 people in the latest land dispute.

A Reuters reporter, who visited Cheptais in the foothills of Mount Elgon, said five army helicopters struck a forested mountain area as part of an operation following last week's attack in which civilians were hacked, shot or burned to death.

Human rights group say more than 500 people have been killed in Mount Elgon clashes over the past year and a half in violence that preceded a wave of ethnic violence over President Mwai Kibaki's disputed re-election in December.

Government spokesman Alfred Mutua confirmed the operation was under way near the Uganda border and said the army was providing logistical support to police hunting "criminals operating from mountain hideouts".

"We're using military helicopters to get the police out there because it's high altitude," he told Reuters.

The army, which deployed hundreds of soldiers to the region on Sunday, has sealed the area and prevented media from getting close to the action, witnesses and local journalists said.

There was no immediate word on casualties.

Police have blamed the violence on criminal gangs, notably a shadowy group calling itself the Saboat Land Defence Force, and have vowed to wipe them out of Mount Elgon, a fertile area famous for its elephant herds.


Kenya has witnessed bloody feuds over land dating back to independence from Britain in 1963. For decades politicians have claimed land for political patronage, dividing it among members of their tribe or giving it away to guarantee tribal loyalties.

The problem has been exacerbated by pressure on land resources from a fast-growing population, and a proliferation of guns smuggled into Kenya through its porous borders.

Across the border, Ugandan army spokesman Paddy Ankunda said clashes started early on Monday.

"We are concerned that the fighting might spill over to the Uganda side, so we have to take precautions to make sure the fighting does not affect the Ugandan side," he said without elaborating.

Nairobi-based rights groups say previous security operations in and around Mount Elgon have been excessive with women and children bearing the brunt of the exercises.

Abdul Mwasserah, the Western Province Commissioner, urged residents in the area to respect a dawn to dusk curfew imposed more than six months ago.

Land is one of the key issues to be discussed by Kenya's parliament and proposed coalition government.

In another reminder of Kenya's insecurity, 10 people were killed in clashes over livestock last week in the country's barren northeast, an official said on Monday.