31 December 2005

Kenya: Forest Settlers Now Play Hide And Seek Game

Nairobi — What was expected to be a major clash between security personnel and settlers at the Mau forest of Narok district turned out to be much ado about nothing.

The settlers who returned after being evicted five months ago, had left peacefully following a government order to move out or be forcibly ejected.

But the Nation learnt that most had only gone into hiding, intending to return after the security personnel left.

Led by Mulot district officer Hassan Burre, a contingent of about 40 armed officers arrived at the forest at 2.30pm on Thursday to find nobody.

The settlers had returned to their farms after a court ruling.

One of them, Mr Charles Kitur, said he would leave the forest only for the grave. "I can only move from this place to the grave," he vowed.

"The Government promised to settle us after realising we had genuinely bought this land, but it has not and we are losing patience."

Mr Kitur whom the Nation found at his former shamba at the Nyamira Ndogo area, explained that he was originally from Kapsabet which he left in 1999 after buying the forest land.

He is among hundreds of former landowners who are now clandestinely cultivating the farms from which they were evicted in July.

He and his colleagues are now living in caves as they work on the farms to avoid arrest.

The DO said the Government did not want to use force, and that this was why it had used all options, including chiefs' barazas, to convince the settlers to voluntarily leave the forest.

"We want them to be patient as we look for a way to resettle them elsewhere," he said. "Everyone knows the importance of these water catchment areas."

Out of the 2,000 families evicted from the forest, only 285 have been resettled despite the Government's promise to give land to all with genuine ownership claims.

The 285 were given new land in Nakuru district in early October.

Another settler, Mr William Cheruiyot, who claims 30 acres, said the group had not built huts so as not to draw the security agents' attention.

A survey by Nation shows evidence of new heightened cultivation and logging in the forest.

Yesterday the government showed that it was not taking chances as it sent more security officers from Rapid Deployment Unit (RDU) to beef up the surveillance in the forest.

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