KENYA: Guns recovered, militiamen surrender after leader's killing

Monday, May 19, 2008
Kenyan security officers have recovered more guns and witnessed "several" militiamen surrendering after the killing of a militia leader in the western Mt Elgon district, a police official told IRIN on 19 May.

"The killing of the militia leader was unfortunate; we would have been pleased to arrest him and have him face the due process of the law - prosecution and sentencing - but as a result of the death we have had many of his supporters surrendering and we have recovered several guns," Eric Kiraithe, police spokesman, said from Mt Elgon, where he is leading a team of senior security officers to assess the situation.

Security officers - comprising the army and police - were deployed in the district in March, under "Operation Okoa Maisha" (Operation Save Lives), to quell an insurgency by the Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF), a militia group claiming to be fighting for the land rights of the Sabaot community.

SLDF was formed in 2006 to seek redress for alleged injustices during land distribution in a settlement scheme known as Chebyuk, with the conflict pitting two main clans of the Sabaot - Mosop (also known as Ndorobo) and Soy – against each other. The SLDF has been blamed for the deaths of at least 600 civilians since the start of its insurgency.

SLDF leader Wycliffe Komon Matakwei was reportedly killed with 12 other militiamen on 16 May during an ambush by security officers in Kopsiro division of Mt Elgon.

"From my observation, most of the members of the public are happy with the progress we have made so far; the death of the militia leader comes as a relief to the people he has been terrorising," Kiraithe said.

Kiraithe dismissed claims of mis-identification, saying the security officers had gone through due process and all indications were that Matakwei had been positively identified.

"What is left is a forensic examination, which we are planning to conduct; otherwise the identification process carried out so far indicates that the body is Matakwei," Kiraithe said.

Allegations of rights violations

Matakwei's death occurred two days after the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) released a report accusing the military of committing serious human rights violations during their operation in Mt Elgon. The police denied the allegations.

In the report, The Mountain of Terror, the commission called for an investigation into allegations of torture committed by security forces in Mt Elgon district, saying the military should stop the excesses of the security forces deployed in the area.

The commission said it had written to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, urging her to recommend to the UN Security Council the suspension of Kenya's armed forces in any ongoing or future UN peacekeeping missions "on account of the violations".

Denying the commission's allegations, Kiraithe said the police had evidence of acts of torture committed by SLDF militiamen.

"So far, since the military operation started in the district, there has been only one case of murder reported," Kiraithe told IRIN. "The operation will continue because we are determined to rid the district of this criminal gang."