29 June 2006

Kenya: Squatters Give Demands to Leave Forest

Nairobi — Most of the 6,000 squatters in Embobut forest, Marakwet District, are willing to leave if the Government gives them alternative land, they said yesterday.

They told the new Marakwet district commissioner Tingo Nyamatiko that they had contributed to massive destruction of the prime water catchment area.

But the families blamed the plunder of the forest on their rising population, which they said had made it necessary to expand their farms and settlement, leading to destruction of over 15,000 acres of forest cover.

"We are not ready for further confrontation with the Government over the forest issue, but we want the State to address our plight in a friendly and humane manner," Mzee Kawertich, 75, told Mr Nyamatiko.

The squatters were speaking during a meeting convened by the DC at Kakimiti Village.

"The colonial administration allowed us to occupy the 14 open glades in 1933, but we later started encroaching on the forest due to population pressure," Mama Veronica Tula, 80, said. The squatters apologised for the massive forest plunder and agreed that it faced extinction if urgent steps were not taken to protect it from further plunder.

The DC told the squatters to form a committee, which will work with the Government in addressing their plight.

"The committee would be required to work with the forest department in identifying the recent invaders to facilitate their evictions," Mr Nyamatiko said.

He warned the 370 evicted families against returning to the forest. The DC accused some squatters of setting their own houses ablaze and later blaming the Government to attract assistance from donors.

District forest officer Dennis Kerengo said the Government had carried out 18 evictions since the forest was gazetted through a legal notice in 1964, but the families always returned.

Mr Kerengo said forest destruction had been accelerated by 3,000 recent invaders from outlying villages.

Area MP Linah Kilimo asked the Government to resume redrawing of forest boundaries to settle squatters as recommended by the district development committee.

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