13 November 2012

Kenya: Fury As Decomposed Bodies of Ambushed Police Arrive

Photo: Chris Corwin/Flickr
Casket, at gravesite.

A sombre mood engulfed the Chiromo mortuary as the bodies of police officers killed in Samburu at the weekend were finally airlifted to Nairobi, four days after the brutal attack.

The condition of the remains wrapped in body bags brought the stark reality that they were left too long in the sweltering Suguta Valley heat, causing them to decompose - in a matter of days.

When the police helicopter carrying the bodies landed at the Wilson airport at about 2pm, it attracted dozens of vultures that hovered in the air.

Failure by the government to retrieve the bodies on time became clear as the bodies were being offloaded from the helicopter and placed in trucks that had lined up the runway.

"Why did the government leave the bodies to decompose this much? It is not proper at all for us as families," said Fatuma Mohammed, a relative to one of the officers killed in the attack.

"Why should the government do this to its own officers who were killed while at work; is that the best way they could honour them by leaving their bodies to decompose before they are taken to the mortuary?" she posed, as relatives demanded the body of their kin for a speedy burial in line with the Muslim rites.

Authorities insisted that the bodies would only be released for burial after autopsies are done.

As the trucks were ferrying the bodies to the Chiromo mortuary, the extent of the carnage evoked mixed reactions from city residents who shared in the tribulations of the families.

"It's so sad. The police convoy carrying their bodies is leaving a trail of stench... could be symbolic of how stinking a nation we are, if we can let them down like that when they died fighting for us," Damaris Kitavi tweeted.

Njeri Nderi too commented on the Twitter and Facebook social networking sites, asking "What happened in Baragoi? From ambush to Chiromo! More importantly, can this be a lesson to government - well, one wishes. This event is a blot on our government and more answers need to be forthcoming."

At the Chiromo mortuary, the families had more harrowing tales to tell.

"The police department did not care to inform us about this incident or that our kin had been killed. We had to make our own follow ups because we know our relative was posted in Baragoi," Simon Kimani who lost his relative said, adding: "Up to now we have not been told anything other than the bodies we are seeing here, and they are already decomposed."

"Why couldn't they be taken out of that (Suguta) valley in time? Which government leaves their officers to lie out there for that long?" he posed.

Forty two officers killed were among a contingent of 107 policemen sent out to recover stolen cattle, but only 50 returned alive. Nine are admitted to the Kenyatta National Hospital with serious gunshot injuries. The whereabouts of six others remain unknown.

Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere said the officers were ambushed as they headed for a security operation to flush out bandits and recover animals they had stolen from manyattas in Samburu.

"The operational strategy was okay, but it is unfortunate because they were ambushed two kilometres from the manyatta they were headed to recover the animals. It appears the strategy leaked to the bandits," Iteere said.

But families interviewed at the Chiromo mortuary blamed senior officers for having deployed young officer's fresh from college to the battle ground.

"My cousin was deployed there after the recent passout parade at the Administration Police College in Embakasi. He had no experience on such a situation at all," Joseph Ochieng, a cousin to 23-year-old Duncan Omolo who perished in the attack said.

A relative of another deceased officer who was identified as Abubakar Sisoko said it was the first posting for the slain officer.

"We have never seen him since graduating from college. He was posted immediately and we had been waiting for him. It is so unfortunate that he is dead," a relative who was so emotional that he could not give his name said.

On the missing officers, the Police Commissioner said: "We are still looking for them, we hope to find them alive," the police chief told reporters at the Wilson Airport.

He said he would not resign over the police killings saying: "I am not to blame; the nitty gritty of the operation strategy are left to the commanders on the ground. Those calling for my resignation are exercising their constitutional right. They are entitled to their opinion."

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