30 January 2013

East Africa: British Army Accused of Arming Poachers

Photo: Ted Kinyanjui/Flickr
Kenya Wildlife Service attend to a poached elephant (file photo).

In yesterday's Star, we told you about the lords of poaching in Samburu. This is the second part of the investigation by Star writer KIBIWOTT KOROSS.

POACHERS in Samburu and Isiolo are often dressed in military attire allegedly sourced from the British Army training in the area.

Most of the poachers who are killed or arrested don military uniform which are sourced from the British Army at the Archers' Post military training ground, according to multiple sources. About 10,000 British soldiers visit Kenya every year for training.

Elephants, conservationists say, seem to recognise the green KWS jungle gear and often take anybody in such attire as a friend.

"Poachers wear military gear and elephants think they are KWS officers," said Daniel Leteiyo, a manager at Westgate conservancy in Samburu.

Elephants are amongst the world's most intelligent species. Scientists say the elephant's brain is similar to that of humans in terms of structure and complexity.

Those interviewed said the uniforms are bought from the soldiers or from their handlers who steal from them.

The source said when the officers from the British Army are broke, they sell their uniforms and ammunition at throwaway prices.

"They are sold very cheap. A full military gear can be exchanged for a crate of beer," said the source who is privy to the deals.

This was corroborated by Archers Post OCS George Naibei who said his officers have confiscated a number of military uniforms suspected to be from the British Army.

"There are many people with military uniform here and most of them are poachers and bandits," said Naibei. "From arrests made, the owners say they get them from the British Army."

The poachers also pass as scouts or rangers since the park is vast and unfenced.

Leteiyo says focus has been on cash flow at the gates thereby overshadowing security at the parks.

There are many illegal firearms in the wrong hands in the area. Being a pastoral zone which is synonymous with cattle rustling, the communities arm themselves for protection.

The Kenya National Focal Point on Small Arms and Light Weapons believes that possession of illegal arms in Kenya is on an upward trend. According to one of its surveys done in 2011, the number of illegal firearms currently in the wrong hands is shocking.

"The number of illegal arms has grown. According to our last survey, we came up with conservative number of 530,000-680,000 firearms in the wrong hands. That's a big number. The findings and recommendations from this research are going to inform the policy and review of our legislation in the management and control of arms in this country."

KNFP is a multi-agency initiative within the ministry of State for Provincial Administration and Internal Security. Established in 2002, the agency brings together various government ministries, departments and civil society organisations in the management and control of small arms and light weapons in Kenya.

Dr Francis Sang, who is the executive secretary at the Regional Centre on Small Arms and Light Weapons, says the availability and use of illicit small arms and light weapons continue to pose a threat to peace not only in Kenya but the region at large. Recsa is a regional inter-governmental organisation that deals with the prevention, control and reduction of arms in its 15-member states including Kenya and her neighbours.

Samburu residents accused the British Army of giving ammunition to the poachers.

"Most of the ammunition is sourced from the British Army," said a conservationist who sought anonymity, "they sale it cheaply or at times they just cut the ammunition belt and throw it away when they are tired. So poachers and other criminals get them through those working in the camps."

Contacted for comment, British High Commission head of communications John Bradshaw denied the reports, saying the British Army does not sell ammunition or uniforms to civilians. "Strict accounting procedures are in place to prevent any unauthorised sale of such items," he said in an email.

He said other procedures are in place to stop incidences of theft. "If thefts do occur then we aim to work with local police to confiscate stolen items, and review procedures for possible improvements to prevent future thefts," he added.

Asked whether the British government accounts for old uniforms of their soldiers, Bradshaw said the uniforms are issued items and therefore they are accountable.

But in June last year, two rifles with 19 rounds of ammunition and a British Army uniform were recovered by KWS rangers in Samburu.

A renowned poacher was also arrested with powerful night vision equipment which is used to track elephants at night.

Rasta, as he is known in the area, was arrested in June 2009 by KWS rangers with the equipment but his charges were dropped in unclear circumstances.

Bradshaw denied they belonged to the British Army. "Night vision equipment is available commercially and so may be sourced from many places," he said. "We are not surprised of this particular case and therefore cannot speculate as to where this poacher sourced night vision equipment. Our night vision equipment is managed and accounted for carefully, in line with military procedures."

He however did not rule out presence of locals in the training area which, according to him, is a big challenge. "A challenge we face is encroachment into the Kenya Ministry of Defence live firing training area by civilians," he said.

"This has not only increased the chance of theft but also of injury to civilians. We are working closely with Kenyan authorities to prevent this."

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