News 2008


Army Fights Rebels in Mt Elgon

The Monitor (Kampala)

11 March 2008

David Mafabi, Bernard Kwalia & Kennedy Masibo

HUNDREDS of Kenyans have crossed into Uganda fleeing heavy fighting in the Mt. Elgon area, where the Kenya Airforce is battling rebel militiamen armed with modern and archaic weapons.

In Mount Elgon and Trans-Nzoia districts, the military has been flushing out rebel militia groups that have been causing endless havoc. The operation is seen as the government's first step to boost the police in dealing with outlawed groups in the country.

The rebel groups include; Sabaot Land Defence Forces (SLDF), Mooreland Forces (MF) and the newly formed Political Revenge Movement (PRM). Reports at Lwakhakha border post indicate that the fighting started at about 9.00pm on Sunday and has so far seen many Kenyans who were trying to settle after the recent post-election violence run back to Uganda for refuge.

About 11 people have been killed in the violence and many others have been injured. About 600 more have been displaced. Sources said that the SLDF are armed with guns, spears, arrows and bows.

Mr Paul Nangoli, the Resident District Commissioner of Uganda's eastern district of Manafwa told Daily Monitor yesterday that over 800 Kenyans had illegally entered Uganda and are now camped in various places in Bumbo, Bubutu and Buwabwala sub-counties and Lwakhakha border post.

"Yes, there is fighting between Saboat rebels and the government airforce with a lot of violence that is now spreading towards the border. Apparently there is continuous crossing of Kenyans into Uganda
seeking refuge," said Mr Nangoli.

He revealed that although people at the border in Bumbo have information that Kenyan rebels have been training around Mt Elgon area near Sono parish in Uganda, the Kenyan government had downplayed the fighting as an operation to end the SLDF's violence on the local population.

"This war is not about land in Chebuyuk settlement scheme but it is against a rebel group that has been recruiting in Mt Elgon area. These rebels have been there and we thought it was going to end with the signing of the peace pact on February 28," Mr Charles Mutsungu, a refugee who lives in Lwakhakha said. The rebels allegedly began recruiting during the post election violence, according to Mr Lwakhakha. Mr Nangoli said the Kenyan air force illegally crossed into Sono parish in Bumbo sub-county in Uganda sending fears that the violence could spread to Uganda.

"These people crossed illegally with their arms into our territorial boundary thereby violating our independence in Ugandan air space and I am already preparing a report to send to the headquarters about this illegal crossing into the country with arms," he said.

He revealed that the 3rd Division garrison commander Maj. J. S. Muralo has gone to the border with soldiers to monitor the situation in the sub-counties that border Kenya. The Uganda Peoples Defense Forces spokesman, Maj. Paddy Ankunda, confirmed there was fighting in the Mt Elgon area that borders Uganda but downplayed it as an issue that concerns only Kenya.

"Yes, there is heavy fighting in Mt Elgon area in Kenya sending a lot of fear that it could spread anytime to Uganda as Kenyans continue crossing to Uganda for refuge but this does not concern us, until it crosses into Uganda. We are assessing the situation and its impact," said Ankunda.

When Daily Monitor reached Lwakhakha border post, the town seemed abandoned apart from a few people who kept crossing in small numbers into Uganda with their luggage. Many shops were closed. The operation is likely to move to other places like Kuresoi, Sotik-Borabu and Laikipia.

The Bumbo LC5 councillor Mr Jotham Walwema Bukaniya confirmed that there have been persistent reports about rebel recruitment in Mt Elgon area and that several people at the border have been monitoring the developments until yesterday when the fighting started.

He revealed that since the fighting broke out, Kenyan refugees were increasingly streaming in posing a security concern to Manafwa district authorities. The Kenyan military, teaming up with the General Service Unit (GSU), regular police, Anti-Stock Theft Unit and Administration Police (AP) has been dispatched to the larger Mt Elgon forest and Cheptais area to crack-down on the militia. The military personnel arrived in five helicopters and several armored vehicles and tanks. They camped at Kapkoto area in Cheptais division and Malakisi in Teso district before the operation.

They bombed a number of caves used by the militia as their armories. Western Provincial Commissioner Abdul Mwasera confirmed that the operation was on but said it was too early to comment on the matter.