News 2008

 

Who was worse, militia or army? Village dilemma



By KIPCHUMBA SOME

DAILY NATION

4. August 2008

In Summary

  • 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 operation.
  • 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 years.

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 eight.

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,” she added.

“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 prejudice.

“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 efforts.”

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.

 

 

OGIEK HOME