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November 18, 2018

Embobut operation targets bandits not Sengwer, says state

Sengwer houses in Embobut forest gutted by KFS fire as they force them out of the forest.Photo/Stanley Magut.
Sengwer houses in Embobut forest gutted by KFS fire as they force them out of the forest.Photo/Stanley Magut.

A government official has assured the indigenous Sengwer community that they will not be harmed in an ongoing operation to smoke out bandits in Embobut forest.

Marakwet East deputy county commissioner Stephen Sangolo said police are only targeting armed criminals suspected to behind banditry attacks that left at least four people dead on the Elgeyo Marakwet-West Pokot border.

Sangolo’s assurance comes amid claims that police are slaughtering sheep belonging to Sengwer during the operation.

He declined to comment on the accusations of livestock theft levelled against the police.

Members of the Sengwer community criticised the operation, terming it a move to forcibly evict the community.

At least 500 police officers, including the General Service Unit, Administration Police, Anti-Stock Theft Unit and regular police were deployed in the area ahead of the operation, which started last month.

In a statement read by Sengwer community youth representative Philemon Cheptorus in Iten on Monday, the community claimed the state has labelled the community “bandits” as an excuse to forcibly evict its members.

“They [security forces] have confiscated livestock and slaughtered some of them, while executing the worst violation of human rights,” the statement read.

SHEEP SLAUGHTERED

Cheptorus accused the police of slaughtering three sheep belonging to two Sengwer herders. He said the state operation is being carried out in glades occupied by the indigenous community, including Kapkok, Chepkundul, Kaptirbai and Koropkwen.

“We are calling for the operation to stop with immediate effect. We will call for peaceful demonstrations to advocate our rights if the government fails to act,” the statement read.

The community called on the UN’s special rapporteur on indigenous people, KNCHR, NCHRD and Amnesty International to intervene and save the community from human rights violations.

Members of the indigenous community spoke during the launch of an interim report by the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders on the situation of rights of women living in the forest.

North Rift KFS commandant Daniel Rono said the service received an intelligence report that the Sengwer were arming themselves to fight security agencies.

Sengwer women leaders Mary Komen appealed to the state to suspend the operation, saying women and children are sleeping in the cold for fear of harassment by security forces.

Embobut MCA Paul Kipyatich told security agencies to conduct the operation in a humane manner.

Kipyatich said he was aware of the livestock theft and told security bosses to compensate the affected herders.

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