Hundreds flee and several dead
in Kenya army offensive
Tue Mar 11, 2008
By John Komen
CHEPTAIS, Kenya (Reuters) - Hundreds of Kenyans fled the remote
Mount Elgon region on Tuesday and several people have been killed
as army helicopters attacked a small rebel militia for the second
day, witnesses and a legislator said.
A Reuters witness saw at least 300 people escaping the area, where
helicopters have strafed the foothills and hundreds of
heavily-armed soldiers have poured into the forest since Monday,
to flush out the little-known Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF).
The Mount Elgon violence preceded a wave of ethnic killings around
Kenya over President Mwai Kibaki's disputed re-election in
December -- but it shares some of the root causes like tribal
tensions and resentment over land distribution.
"The helicopters were firing next to the village throughout the
morning. It was unbearable," one farmer told Reuters as he fled
out of the area beyond the army cordon into Cheptais town.
Journalists and aid workers have been barred from the conflict
area, which has fertile farmland, is famous for its elephant herds
and lies near the border with Uganda.
A local legislator said several people had been killed, though the
toll could be higher.
"I understand three or four people have been killed ... The area
is inaccessible due to the terrain and these guys are dropping
bombs so it is very difficult to know the number," Mount Elgon
member of parliament (MP) Fred Kapondi said.
He criticized the government's tactics as heavy-handed.
"What the government is doing to people here is inhuman. They are
pounding on traumatized children and mothers. The March planting
has been disrupted so now there will be no food ... This operation
must be stopped," Kapondi told Reuters.
More than 500 people have been killed and 60,000 have fled clashes
in the area over the last 18 months.
Allocation of government land in mid-2006 unleashed fighting
between the Ndorobo and Soy clans of the Sabaot ethnic group.
Opponents say the land was divided corruptly and favored the
Ndorobos and government supporters, at the expense of the more
numerous Soy, some of whom were evicted from areas they had farmed
for 30 years. The SLDF group is mainly Soy.