2 January 2006

Kenya: Police Mount 24-Hour Watch Over Mau Forest

Nairobi — More than 100 police officers have been deployed in the Mau forest in Narok District to prevent evicted families from returning to work on their farms.

They would remain there on a 24-hour operation until the forest was rid of the settlers, a police source said.

The more than 2,000 families were kicked out by the Government five months ago to protect the forest.

The officers who are joining forest guards and Narok county council rangers, are members of the Rapid Deployment Unit.

Illegal farming

They were sent there at the weekend and are to keep watch over areas around Ol Mekenyu location where illegal farming has been going on.

The operation is being coordinated by Mulot district officer Hassan Burre, who said he did not expect any violent confrontation.

The Government deployed the police after one-off operations failed to deter the former settlers. But it was not known for how long they would remain there.

The number of settlers who are trying to return is, however, low - only 300 of the 2,000 evicted families, some of whom have been resettled elsewhere by the Government.

Those who have returned seem to have made good their threat to return and resume cultivation if the Government did not give them alternative land.

Families resettled

Only 285 families have been resettled in Nakuru District.

On Thursday, police moved into several parts of the forest to flush out the returned families, but they had either taken off to avoid arrest or were hiding in caves as they waited for the officers to leave so that they could continue working on their former farms.

But the officers found no huts, although there was evidence of foundations for temporary homes.

One of the former settlers, Mr William Cheruiyot, had prepared to set up a small shop. But he said in despair: "It seems I cannot now continue with my project."

Mr Cheruiyot, who used to own 30 acres of land, said many of the former settlers were frustrated by what he termed slow resettlement.

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