KENYA: Aid workers under siege

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) has appealed for respect for aid workers providing assistance to thousands after its staff were attacked by bandits and accosted by security personnel in Mandera, in the northeast.

"Bandits attacked the Kenya Red Cross personnel who were returning from their work in Garissa [a neighbouring town], robbing them of their personal effects such as money and mobile phones," the agency said in a statement.

In a separate incident, “the chairman of [the] Mandera Branch … sustained injuries after being arrested [by security personnel] while dressed in the Society’s red jacket", said the statement.

The government is conducting a security operation in Lafey, Wargadud and Elwak area after the killing of at least 20 people in the past month.

In response, Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe said investigations would be carried out and appropriate action taken, adding that the incident had probably arisen out of a misunderstanding.

Inter-agency meetings would also be organised, "so that they [the security forces and KRCS] see each other as partners with complementary roles", he said.

"We would want them [KRCS personnel] to work in close liaison with the commanders on the ground," he said. Security would also be provided to the relief teams if need be, he said.

"One of the reasons why the security operation is there is to ensure security so that the KRCS and other relief agencies can work," he said. Some aid agencies have suspended activities, citing security concerns.

KRCS is providing aid to hundreds of people affected by flash floods and clan fighting this month.

The floods, caused when the seasonal River Daua burst its banks, displaced at least 5,000 people, submerged hundreds of latrines and some wells, causing acute water shortages and sanitation-related problems in Mandera town.

Clan fighting in mid-October also left at least eight people dead and 31 houses torched in the region, which has yet to recover from the effects of a prolonged drought that has left an estimated 115,000 people depending on relief aid.

KRCS is working with the government and various relief agencies in providing non-food items, medical services, water and sanitation facilities.