- Environment CS Tobiko announced the move during a virtual meeting with Senate Committee on Lands, Environment and Natural Resources.
- He was invited by the committee to shed light on the ongoing evictions after Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika made a request.
Settlers within the Eastern Mau Forest got a reprieve on Wednesday after the Environment ministry put on hold the ongoing evictions.
Environment CS Keriako Tobiko announced the move during a virtual meeting with the Senate Committee on Lands, Environment and Natural Resources.
Tobiko was invited by the committee to shed light on the ongoing evictions after Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika made a request.
Kenya Forest Service has been undertaking a multi-agency operation to flush out encroachers and reclaim Logoman, Sururu, Likia, Kiptunga, Mariashoni, Nessuit, Baraget and Oleposmoru forests within the complex.
Scores of settlers have already been kicked out.
The operation started on June 27 and involved 100 officers from KFS and the Kenya Police Service.
Authorities said the aim of the exercise was to stop all the illegal human activities in government forests.
Tobiko said the halting of evictions would allow a multi-agency team to establish the cutline before evictions resume.
“The evictions will be humane,” Tobiko said.
The multi-agency team is composed of elders from the Kipsigis and Ogiek communities, officials from the Ministry of Interior, KFS, regional commissioner George Natembeya and his team.
Tobiko said the cutline that the team will establish will be agreed upon before those found to have encroached on forest land are kicked out.
The CS said the team has 14 days to complete its work. Senators will then tour the area on a fact-finding mission.
On Monday, the Environment and Lands Court in Nakuru issued orders barring the government from evicting settlers.
This was after the Nakuru county assembly deputy Speaker Joseph Tonui filed a petition seeking to stop evictions on behalf of more than 44,000 families in Mau.
Tonui moved to court under a certificate of urgency, suing Kenya Forest Service, CS Tobiko and Rift Valley regional commissioner Natembeya in a case where the Law Society of Kenya is an interested party.
The judge certified the matter urgent and ordered that the application be served to all the four respondents immediately for an inter-parte hearing on July 30.
During the virtual meeting, Tobiko said the government had no intention to harass anybody while protecting and conserving water towers and shall remove anyone found living in forests in a humane and just manner.
Tobiko was accompanied by the KFS Chief Conservator of Forests Julius Kamau, Nema acting director general Mamo Mamo among other officers.
The Senate committee chaired by Senator Mwangi Githiomi (Nyandarua) thanked the CS for suspending the eviction until an amicable solution is reached.
Already, the government has secured more than 11,119 acres from the Eastern side of the Mau Forest complex.
Tobiko had said the Maasai Mau was the most critical ecosystem "yet it is now on deathbed following massive destruction”.
Natembeya told the Star on July 13 the operation was going well. He said more than 900 illegal structures had been destroyed.
“There has been no resistance as most of them knew that it is forestland. They have been waiting,” Natembeya said.
He said the government would do everything possible to ensure the remaining forests were conserved for future generations.
But as the evictions gained momentum, Nakuru leaders cried foul, urging the government to suspend them.
Senator Kihika said the exercise must be stopped before surveyors were deployed to map out the cutline.
Njoro MP Charity Chepkwony asked President Uhuru Kenyatta to stop any evictions during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Edited by Henry Makori