News 2008


Fear grips residents as army mounts air attacks

Published on March 11, 2008


By Allan Kisia

The Government has mounted the strongest offensive against the Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF) militia.

After a four-month mobilisation, according to security sources, the army, General Service Unit and paramilitary police officers landed in Mt Elgon on Sunday night.

Residents of Cheptais said helicopters started firing at 5am on Monday. "We heard explosions as helicopters hovered in the air. We are shocked," said Pastor Joseph Kipnusu.

Hundreds of families fled Kopsiro and Cheptais divisions in fear.

Most activities, including learning in some schools in Cheptais, were paralysed.

Ms Phoebe Masai, a teacher at Bukoloi Primary School, said her colleagues and pupils ran away following the aerial attacks.

The Kenya Red Cross Society officials reported that one person was taken to Lugulu Mission Hospital with injuries.

Hundreds of heavily armed military officers are combing homesteads in search of SLDF members.

The ragtag army is said to have killed 546 people and displaced more than 40,000 residents in the past 18 months.

The fighting, which was sparked by controversy over allocations at Chebyuk Settlement Scheme, has taken a new dimension.

SLDF has spread its raids to Trans Nzoia and Bungoma districts.

When The Standard visited Kopsiro, Cheptoror and Cheptonon, market centres and homes were deserted.

"Everyone is on the run. People cannot wait for the security personnel because they are usually ruthless," said a resident.

Western PC, Mr Abdul Mwasserrah, announced a night curfew to make the operation effective.

"There should be no movement between 6.30pm and 6.30am," he said.

But local MP, Mr Fred Kapondi, accused the Government of harassing residents.

"Helicopters have bombed banks of Lwakhakha and Cheptais rivers. They should concentrate on Mt Elgon Forest," he said.

Kapondi claimed hundreds of youths had been arrested and taken to an undisclosed destination.

"We fear there might be killings. This is an affront to peaceful civilians. Iíll take up the matter with the Internal Security minister, Prof George Saitoti," he said.

Kapondi said the Government should adhere to international human rights codes to ensure minimal suffering.

The Local county council vice-chairman, Councillor Benson Cheskak, said the operation was uncalled for.

He said the Government knew where the militia were hiding.