News 2008


Charity says Kenya security forces block its work

Mon 21 Jul 2008

By Guled Mohamed

NAIROBI (Reuters) - A medical charity accused Kenyan security forces on Monday of blocking its work in a remote eastern region where soldiers are fighting rebels.

David Michalski, a coordinator with Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), said staff members were being stopped at roadblocks in the Mount Elgon area and prevented by the local authorities from helping people caught up in the violence.

"We were helping thousands of civilians until a few weeks ago and are extremely concerned for them. Some have contacted us in great despair," he told reporters in the capital Nairobi.

"It surprises us that we are not getting anywhere with authorities ... Vulnerable people are being left in harsh and cold living conditions without access to vital assistance."

Last month, MSF accused Kenyan troops of systematic torture and extra-judicial killings of civilians in the region.

Local activists have also accused the security forces of torturing thousands of people as they hunt separatist rebels from the illegal Sabaot Defence Land Force (SDLF) through the caves and forests of the long-troubled area bordering Uganda.

The authorities have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Benson Chesikak, chairman of Mount Elgon county council, confirmed that MSF operations in the region had been halted by the government on suspicion that the charity had evidence of Kenyan soldiers torturing civilians.

"I understand the order came from above," he told Reuters. "I don't know if it was from the provincial level or national."

The Mount Elgon district commissioner, Mohamed Biriki, declined to comment in detail. But he told Reuters that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) like MSF existed to supplement government operations.

"If any NGO fails to support government plans or goes against such plans, then it is not good," he said.

About 600 people have died around Mount Elgon and 60,000 more been uprooted since the SDLF took up arms in 2006 to fight for territory it says was stolen from the local Soy community.

The violence predates the turmoil that followed Kenya's disputed presidential election in December. But it shares many of its root causes: land disputes, ethnic rivalries, corruption and the neglect of outlying areas.