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
"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.