29 July 2008

Kenya: U.S. and UK Urged to Review Aid

An international human rights organisation Monday urged the US and UK to review military aid to Kenya because of a security operation that allegedly led to the deaths of 62 civilians in Mt Elgon District.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch, backed by local human rights groups, accused a joint police-military team deployed in the area of grave human rights abuses.

The groups told a press conference in Nairobi yesterday that security forces tortured over 380 people during the three-month operation dubbed "Okoa Maisha".

"We are calling on Kenya to facilitate independent investigations into torture and war crimes committed by security forces, and urge donors, including London and Washington, to review military aid to Kenya," Human Rights Watch researcher Ben Rawlence said.

Dismissed claims

In a report titled "All The Men Have Gone", Human Rights Watch claims that hundreds of men were tortured by the police and military earlier this year.

The report says that at least 37 people "disappeared" after being taken into custody by the security forces.

The Government has in the past dismissed the torture claims and Monday, Defence Department spokesman Bogita Ongeri reiterated that the army had not used torture.

He said the residents were actually pleased with the operation.

"We recently even organised a football match between the residents and the military. In addition 50 per cent of all recovered firearms were handed over to us by the residents," said Mr Ongeri.

He urged the rights groups to bring forward those who had been tortured.

Police sources however indicate that some of those involved in the operation may appear in court after a report accused them of human rights abuses.

The report, compiled by a team of officers, was handed over to police commissioner Hussein Ali last week.

The Government launched a joint police-military operation in Mt Elgon in March following two years of terror by the Sabaot Land Defence Force.

The SLDF killed more than 600 people, and kidnapped, tortured and raped those who opposed them.

"The military operation was necessary. What we disagree with is the way in which it was done. The reason why Kenya is a democratic state is because it has laws that have to be followed," Mr Rawlence said.

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