16 June 2005

Kenya: Settlers Must Leave Forest, Vows Minister

Nairobi — The removal of settlers from Mau Forest will be implemented fully, despite a court order, Lands minister Amos Kimunya has said.

Saying the decision was endorsed by the Cabinet, the minister said no amount of political rhetoric or crying foul would stop the Government from carrying out its constitutional mandate of protecting the country's natural wealth for posterity.

Yesterday, Mr Kimunya said court orders on the forest had not barred the Cabinet from implementing the Ndung'u report on land, as they were only directed at the Narok county council. And while the Government sympathised with those who were "conned into buying the illegally acquired forest land", he said, it considered the water-catchments more important. The government would deal with facts, not emotions, he added.

Said Mr Kimunya: "We sympathise, especially with schoolchildren who have no idea what is happening, but we are assessing the situation to see how quickly we can re-settle them."

He accused some politicians of playing to the gallery and cameras while those they misled into buying the land suffered.

He said the demarcation of the forest was going on, and anybody inside the forest boundary would have to go.

The minister said that during the surveying of the trust land that borders the forest, leaders of group ranches that were the beneficiaries advertently increased the land by eating into the forest.

"Most titles do not conform to the law and must be validated. We have no problem with anyone outside the forest boundaries, but anyone inside the forest must consider his title as just a piece of paper," he added.

He said most of the settlers knew that the land they were buying was not genuine, yet they did not stop to ask themselves about the consequences of their actions.

"We had many people coming here to ask whether they should buy that land, but we told them they would do so at their own peril," said the minister.

He said he expected the evicted settlers to expose those who sold them the land so that investigations into the illegal acquisition could net the culprits.

Meanwhile, a Kenya National Union of Teachers official yesterday urged the Government to rebuild schools demolished during the evictions.

Bomet executive secretary Wilson Sossion demanded that new schools be equipped afresh before the pupils and teachers returned.

The children were traumatised, he said, and expressed the fear that Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examination candidates and their Form Four colleagues would not perform well.

Urging the Government to recognise title deeds and resettle all displaced farmers, Mr Sossion said in Bomet town: "The side-effects of the evictions will not be sweet to the Government and the entire country."

But a conservation group from Narok yesterday welcomed the decision to restore the Mau Forest and save it from massive destruction.

The group, Friends of Mau Conservation, urged the Government and the Narok country council to "forever be vigilant and protect this water catchment area at all costs".

Led by its chairman Mpatinga ole Kamoye, the group said it was unfortunate that some leaders to politicised such an issue of national importance and read malice where none existed.

Additional reporting by Geoffrey Rono and Mugo Njeru

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