The Star (Nairobi)

15 November 2012

Kenya: The Day 'Salty Water' Valley Turned Bloody

Survivors say they were neglected by their commanders during the operation, getting only dry rations with no drinking water.

"No help has come to our side. Please let the world know that we are suffering, we may not talk again since my battery is almost dead." This was a text message from a police officer who survived the Baragoi massacre on Saturday before dawn.

The Administration Police officer based in Nakuru says he survived the massacre is a miracle. The officer had been informed days before that he was joining his colleagues drawn from Trans Mara, West Pokot, Narok and Rumuruti for an operation in Samburu.

The officer, who sought anonymity, says hell broke loose as they walked along Suguta Valley after alighting from their vehicle. The operation followed a raid by Turkana rustlers on October 20. They had attacked a Samburu village and stole 100 animals. A meeting between Turkana and Samburu side was held and the Turkana elders promised to return the stolen animals within a week.

The elders recovered 48 animals but even before they could get the rest, three of the Turkana chiefs were interdicted by the local District Commissioner for allowing the incident to take place in their jurisdiction.

"We were hit from all directions and I suspect some of us shot at our colleagues since it was dark. We were also tired since we had walked the whole day," says the officer.

Another senior police officer said it was hard working in the area. "I have been here for more than three years now and if I don't get a transfer, I will have to resign. Working here is worse than being in Somalia," said the officer.

The 4am incident left more than 42 policemen dead in an ambush by Turkana cattle rustlers, bringing the number of police officers who have been killed in similar attacks in the recent past to more than 50. Nine police officers were killed in Tana Delta two months ago.

"It is as if the rustlers knew we were after them. It seems they had spies all over," said the police officer. Suguta is a Samburu word which means 'salty water'.

Most of the officers who were picked for the operation, sources say, were young men recently graduated from college. The majority of the 150 administration and regular policemen deployed in the operation graduated from the police academy just three months ago and were taking part in their first such operation.

Their relatives have criticised the government for taking too long to respond to the crisis. The first bodies were offloaded from a police helicopter on Tuesday, nearly four days after the attack.

"Most of those who died are young men who were on their first assignment," says the officer. Among those who died are 22-year-old Abdinasir Abdi Hassan Gullet who graduated from the police college in September and had not even had his first salary.

"Abdi had not even gotten his first salary. The salary had been sent to the bank but he was deployed for the operation before he could withdraw any money," said his uncle who is also a policeman.

Twenty four-year-old Steven Nyongesa who also graduated from the police academy in September had his life cut short following the attack. He had spent a month's leave with his family in Kwanza before he was deployed for the Samburu operation.

The police officers complained that the bodies of their colleagues were left on the battlefield for two days after the ambush. Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere flew to the scene on a police chopper and promised that the killers will be arrested.

Some of the junior officers who were part of the operation accuse their seniors of selectively picking them for the operation. "You have to part with something small to be excluded from such risky operations and if you are not on good terms with your superiors, you are in hot soup," says the police officer.

Another officer says they were terribly dehydrated since they had run short of drinking water. "We only had dry rations commonly known as 'combo' which requires one to drink a lot of water," he recalls. "The morale was so low in the two days preceding the operation."

Efforts to get a comment from Rift Valley AP Commandant Douglas Karanja were fruitless as his cell phone went unanswered for the better part of yesterday.

Meanwhile, a councillor and four chiefs were yesterday charged in a Maralal court with violent robbery and massacre of 42 police officers in Baragoi. They were remanded until November 26.

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