Who was worse, militia or army?
By KIPCHUMBA SOME
4. August 2008
- Now a semblance of normal life
is returning to the battle scarred district.
- 30 people from a village of 150
were killed by the militia in the two months preceding the
military operation dubbed “Okoa Maisha”
- Human Rights Watch report
indicates 62 people died and 830 others were tortured by the
military, while 10,000 more are still displaced by their
- Human rights groups and local MP
Fred Kapondi have criticised the military for killing and
torturing innocent people.
Whether the military should have
been deployed to Mt Elgon District or whether it committed
atrocities are issues Mrs Rita Nasipondwi is least bothered about.
All she knows is that she can now sleep peacefully after three
Ben Nyongesa of Kimama village
in Cheptais Division of Mt Elgon District points at a place where
people were taken and killed by the militia at Chesakwa Forest on
December 31. Photo/ JARED NYATAYA
Yet away from the ground, the London-based Human Rights Watch
released a report last week damning the military for gross
violation of human rights.
Indeed, many residents have accused the military of engaging in an
orgy of killing and torture of the innocent. The soldiers have
been accused raping women.
But for Mrs Nasipondwi, were it not for the military, she might
have died too like the 12 relatives they watched being hacked to
death by the Sabaot Land Defence Force militia while she
resignedly waited her turn.
Hoping and praying
“Before the soldiers arrived, life wasn’t worth living. We were
living on chance, just hoping and praying that we would see
another day. It was terrible,” said the 42-year-old mother of
More than 30 people from the village of 150 were killed by the
militia in the two months preceding the military operation dubbed
“Okoa Maisha” in March. Many more fled.
The militia killed 12 people in just one day: December 3. “I saw
death. The youth who abducted us led us into a forest and hacked
my relatives with machetes. They said we were ungrateful thieves
who had taken their land and left them squatters. They vowed to
finish us all.” she said, tears rolling down her face.
It was a telephone call by a stranger to the leader of the group
that was attacking them that saved her. On being informed that
they had already killed 12 people, the man on the other end of the
phone ordered the killings to be halted, just as she was being led
by the arm by one boy to be executed.
Now a semblance of normal life is returning to the battle scarred
district. And while nothing will ever wipe away those memories,
Mrs Nasipondwi is glad that she can tend to her maize, beans and
coffee trees. Her young children too, can go to school at Kimama
Primary, which had closed down.
“We had lost hope because we knew death could come at moment at
any place,” said Mrs Mary Barasa, whose five family members were
also killed by the militia. “We were being killed like dogs, and
as if there was no government. We’re glad that it is all over,”
“They would come at any time of the day and pick us one by one and
take us to Chesakwa Forest,” said Mr David Juma Nakimess, 22, who
lost his mother to the militia.
Up the mountain
“Sometimes they rounded up a whole family and took them up the
mountain where they killed them. Few ever came back. They later
dumped their bodies in a river within the forest,” he recounted.
It their unbridled barbarism that prompted the Government to act.
But human rights groups and local MP Fred Kapondi have criticised
the military for killing and torturing innocent people.
“Not everybody was an SLDF militia,” said Mr George Chepot, 27,
who said he was tortured. “The soldiers did not conduct any
serious investigations before the operation. They simply passed a
blanket judgment on all the youth in the region. They accused me
of being a SLDF fighter even after I showed them the grave of one
of my family members killed by the militia.”
Residents accuse the soldiers of opening up the operation
“The people who were leading the identification process at Kapkoto
military base were locals who were well known to me,” said Mr
Samwel Lala, 32, a resident of Cheptais who also said he was
tortured. “Some people misused the opportunity to settle scores
with neighbours over previous grudges. I don’t know how we’ll ever
live in peace with them again.”
The report by the Human Rights Watch indicates that 62 people died
and 830 others were tortured by the military, while 10,000 more
are still displaced by their operation. It adds that the
whereabouts of 40 people picked up for screening was unknown.
“This is just malicious propaganda,” said Western provincial
commissioner Abdul Mwaserra. “The operation was meant to restore
order, not to kill people. They should congratulate us for the
exemplary work we have done instead and stop undermining our
Some 1,699 people have been arrested and 1,000 charged with
various offences, said Mr Mwasera, adding that 103 firearms 800
hand grenades and one hand-propelled rocket have been recovered.
“This was a group that was hell bent on causing pain and suffering.
If their was land at the settlement scheme, why did they spread
the conflict to other parts?” asked Mr Mwaserra.
Operation Okoa Maisha has nearly wiped out the militia’s top
command. Wycliffe Komol Matakwei, the self-proclaimed commandant,
was gunned down in May as he tried to evade a dragnet.
The militia’s spokesman, Mr John Kanai was recently arrested in
Uganda and handed over to Kenyan authorities. The spiritual leader,
Mr Jason Manyiror Psongoywo, 84, was arrested in Eldoret in April
and has been charged with administering oaths to killers.
But a fortnight ago, a man claiming to be the new SLDF commander
vowed to continue with the struggle. Mr Sichei Chemaimak claimed
the militia was organising itself and would soon launch a fresh
wave of attacks.
But the PC said: “No one will ever drag back the innocent people
of Mt Elgon into a senseless war again. Chemaimak should surrender
to us and become part of the solution to the problems of Mt Elgon
rather being the problem itself. If he refuses, we shall hunt him
down and bring him to justice “.
Several high ranking politicians and businessmen from the area
have been questioned over their role in the killings.