19 September 2012

Kenya: Two Mass Graves Discovered in Tana

Photo: Capital FM
Residents view victims of ethnic violence at a mosque in the Tana Delta District (file photo).

Security personnel yesterday made a landmark discovery of two mass graves of the Pokomo militia gangs shot during the Kilelengwani raid on Monday last week. Police claim they shot 20 raiders during the attack and the gangs carried and buried the dead some 40 metres after crossing the River Tana.

Tana Rriver County Commissioner Joseph Rotich said the mass graves may have 10 bodies each.

During the Kilelengwani raid, the gang of more than 300 attackers left 38 people dead including nine security officers and 29 Orma pastoralists. They too suffered casualties but did not leave their dead behind. Rotich said the gang's propaganda about oath-taking to prevent bullets hurting their bodies had now been proved wrong after the discovery of the mass graves which he termed as "a major breakthrough".

"The matter is now being handled by the police to see the possibility of getting a court order with a view to getting permission to exhume the bodies," Rotich said. He could not tell the exact number of bodies and items buried in the mass graves. Witnesses have recalled how the raiders organised themselves, with some providing security around a perimeter, others killing the villagers and others burning houses.

Another group was in charge of carrying away casualties to ensure they were not left behind after the attacks. Rotich said the gang took a traditional oath vowing never to leave a casualty behind to prevent identification. Witnesses of the deadly massacre described it as well organised and suspected there were professionals both serving and retired officers from the military or other security organs.

The graves were discovered by police officers who are currently mopping up all illegal weapons in the region following intelligence reports that 300 militias are hiding in the dense Ozi forest. Five firearms belonging to the police officers who were killed are still missing. The security operation involves more than 2,000 officers from the Police, GSU, and Administration Police.

Twenty suspected members of the Pokomo militia gang have been rounded up. Among those arrested were two assistant chiefs from Ozi and Kipini sub-locations. The officers have recovered 17 spears, 32 pangas, six axes, two pairs of binoculars, police uniforms, military boots, sleeping bags, thunder flash, Dami illumination, and empty cartridges of MAk 4 303 rifles.

The government enforced a dusk-to-dawn curfew a week ago and no reports of major attacks have been made since. Garsen MP Danson Mungatana yesterday demanded that GSU officers who hail from Coast region and deployed in Tana River Delta operation be recalled. Mungatana said the presence of such officers in areas affected by the violence could be interpreted negatively by the communities that have been attacking each other.

Mungatana yesterday in Parliament also demanded a statement from the Internal Security acting minister Yusuf Haji over reports that GSU officers attacked Ozi village on Monday morning and burned about 100 houses. The MP claimed the officers burned the houses as they were searching for weapons. "Can the minister tell the House who gave the command for razing of the homes and what disciplinary action will be taken against the officer," said Mungatana.

Mungatana said if the minister believes the GSU officers were not behind the torching of the homes, he should explain to the House if the security officers have been infiltrated by outsiders who are targeting civilians. The MP said the minister should explain if the government will compensate families whose houses were torched.

Attorney General Githu Muigai undertook to ensure the statement is issued on Tuesday. He however said the government is in the process of establishing a judicial commission of inquiry that will probe the Tana Delta chaos noting that some of the issues Mungatana want addressed will be dealt with by the new team. "The process of setting up this commission is very advanced, and we expect latest Friday the commission is named," said the AG.

Meanwhile, a group of residents from the Tana Delta region are planning to boycott the yet-to-start judicial inquiry proceedings on the Tana Delta if minister Haji is not fired and put under investigation. Speaking on behalf of the residents in Nairobi, Barasa Badhiribu, Michael Nkaduda, Said Buya, and Joel Ruhu said their community will not cooperate with the commission of inquiry if Haji remains in office.

Under the auspices of Tana River Community Leaders, the group said that "Haji is an interested party in the clashes therefore his continued stay in the Provincial Administration and Internal Security docket might influence the proceedings". "Though we support the Cabinet decision to form a commission of inquiry into the clashes and the deployment of GSU to quell the violence, what we will not support is having interested parties like Haji oversee the whole process.

We are calling for his sacking as the acting minister and immediate opening of thorough investigations into what might be his role in the whole violence," Badhiribu said. The group called for representation of all the Tana Delta communities in the inquiry commission. "We as well want investigations on why the violence recurs from time to time and gets worse during elections and the faces behind the clashes. Investigate how the perpetrators of the current violence were able to get the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) bullets, and have all the political aspirants scrutinised on what they might know," Nkaduda said.

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