Nairobi — Sharp differences emerged yesterday at a meeting called to discuss the plan to excise part of a forest to settle 400 families.
The meeting brought together environmentalists and representatives of the Maasai families who claim the land is their birthright.
The families' representatives said their demand to be settled on the gazetted Ngong Hills Forest was legitimate and they would not abandon their quest to get back their ancestral right.
But environmental groups said the more than 7,692-acre forest should be conserved because it would save lives.
The well-attended meeting, organised by the Kenya Forest Working Group, and held at the East African Wildlife Society offices, brought the two sides to the controversy together for the first time.
The forest group members included environmentalists from Nairobi and western Kenya and the National Museums of Kenya.
The Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources has confirmed that it was considering a proposal from the Office of the President to degazette at least 20 per cent of the Ngong Hills Forest to settle 400 families.
Yesterday, representatives of the families, through Mr William Monrey, told the meeting that the forest was part of large chunks of Maasai land that the British government took away from the community before independence.
After independence, he said, President Jomo Kenyatta gave a verbal directive that the land be returned to the community.
However, he said, over the years, the directive had not been followed until recently, when President Kibaki granted the request from politicians.
Mr Monrey also claimed that the 400 families already living on the forest land were entitled to it by virtue of adverse possession.