News 2008


MSF at odds with Kenyan police over aid work in western Kenya

21. 07. 2008

NAIROBI (AFP) Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres on Monday denounced Kenyan authorities for blocking its mobile clinics in the troubled Mount Elgon region, but police responded that the restrictions were necessary.

"Since June 27, we are not allowed from our base in Kapsakwony to go to any of the locations where we have been running mobile clinics," MSF's coordinator for operations in Kenya, David Michalski, told a press conference.

People who sought refuge in the region's Chebongweny area told MSF (Doctors Without Borders) that armed forest guards burnt down their homes and shelters and took their food reserves nine days ago.

The charity said blankets were either stolen or destroyed and the MSF medical unit -- where many people had spent the night in search of safety and shelter -- was also burnt down.

"Intentionally attacking medical structures and hampering relief agencies from working, whether during conflict or periods of instability, are serious acts prohibited under the Geneva Conventions," Michalski said.

"MSF is calling on the authorities to meet with us and lift the current restrictions so that we can continue providing humanitarian aid to the people of Mount Elgon as we have always done in a neutral and impartial manner."

Although MSF has written several letters to local authorities and several ministers, "to this point, we have no clear explanation for why we are blocked," he said.

Kenyan police confirmed the restrictions and said they were there to stay because Mount Elgon was a "security operation area."

"At one point or another, a certain class of people will be blocked from accessing certain areas of Mount Elgon. We are doing this because of security to everybody and we believe that there are guns in the wrong hands," police spokesman Eric Kiraithe said.

Responding to MSF claims that civilians are in need of medical supplies, Kiraithe said: "The government has deployed a full military medical camp that has so far treated at least 21,000 people.

"The camp is equipped with air support to ensure that all the remote areas are covered," he said, adding MSF was free to return to the areas after the security operation wraps up.

Since March, the army has cracked down on the Sabaoti Land Defence Force (SLDF), a ragtag militia that has been fighting to reverse a government settlement scheme that displaced the small Sabaot tribe from their ancestral land.

The militia's raids have claimed the lives of at least 600 villagers and displaced tens of thousands. In April, Human Rights Watch accused the Kenyan army and SLDF of a raft of rights violations, including rape and torture of civilians.

Meanwhile, the Ugandan army said it had handed over at least 21 SLDF fugitive fighters to Kenya between May 13 and Wednesday last week.

"Because Uganda believes in good neighbourliness. We had that obligation to take back the rebel (fighters) where they belong," said Captain Henry Obbo, a Ugandan military spokesman.