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June 20, 2018

KFS, EU clash over indigenous communities' return to forests

European Union independent monitor Ruth Malleson (second left), Elgeyo Marakwet Deputy Governor Wesley Rotich and KFS chief conservator Andrew Soi after a meeting in Iten, December 8, 2017. /STEPHEN RUTTO
European Union independent monitor Ruth Malleson (second left), Elgeyo Marakwet Deputy Governor Wesley Rotich and KFS chief conservator Andrew Soi after a meeting in Iten, December 8, 2017. /STEPHEN RUTTO

Kenya Forest Service clashed with the European Union on Friday over the return of indigenous communities to Cheranyany water tower in Elgeyo Marakwet.

The EU representative said the union may withdraw funding for a Sh4 million shillingwater catchment  project if KFS continues harassing residents.

The union sent Ruth Malleson to assess the project but sharp differences emerged during a meeting of the EU, KFS and Elgeyo Marakwet county government officials.

Malleson, an independent EU monitor, accused KFS of committing human rights violations against indigenous communities living in forests.

She said the union will not release funds while the service is "mistreating" embers of the Sengwer community who live in Embobut Forest within the Cherangany water tower.

Sengwers are related to the Ogiek community residing in Mau forest in the South Rift region.

“I have interviewed affected communities in the forests . They complained that they have been assaulted and wounded by KFS officers."

She said the EU is currently studying reports and documentations from indigenous communities in Elgeyo Marakwet forests after working with local NGOs.

“I will present my report to the EU before any funds are released. The EU takes issues of human rights violations seriously,” she said.

Her remarks did not go down well with KFS, that dismissed the claims saying all indigenous communities living in locally gazetted forests were evicted and compensated.

County KFS Chief Conservator Andrew Soi said the union has been asking KFS to allow the Ogiek to resettle in the forest after they were compensated and evicted from the county’s forests in 2013.

Soi said the indigenous community has made several attempts to return to the forest but have been blocked by KFS wardens.

“No human rights violations have been committed against any community and no community is living inside a forest in this county,” he said in the meeting that ended in disarray.

He added the service has only regulated grazing in the forests.

Deputy Governor Wesley Rotich said the EU funds will go into protection of the Cherangany water tower, which is the largest, through regeneration of forests.

He said local youths will also be trained on tree planting and how to sustain benefits from forest products.

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