18 January 2014

Kenya: KFS Guards Burn Down Homes in Embobut Forest

Photo: FPP
Forest guards arrive in Kenya's Embobut Forest in preparation for the evictions.

HUNDREDS of thatched houses belonging to members of the Sengwer community at Embobut forest are being burned down by Kenya Forest Service guards. Residents said the burning of houses and property began on Tuesday. This contradicts a government statement that there are no forceful evictions.

On Wednesday, the PS for Environment, Water and Natural Resources Richard Lesiyampe said people were moving out of the forest willingly. "The reason of telling people to move out of the forest was meant to conserve one of the Kenya's water towers and no one is being forced out but are moving willingly," Lesiyampe said. He was speaking in Eldoret.

However it has emerged that those moving out were IDPs and others who had encroached the forest. They have been compensated. Members of the Sengwer community did not move. They said the forest is their ancestral land and they were not compensated. Residents in Kamolokwo and Kamologon villages in the forest watched helplessly as their houses came down in flames.

Some vowed not to move out of the forest. Luka Raton said he has not been compensated yet his houses and property have been razed down by the KFS. He said he has lived in the forest since 1961 and he has nowhere to go. "Even if they burn our houses we will come back since we are only hiding when the guards came only to emerge after they left," Raton said.

He is living with his family under a tree in the forest just a few metres from his burnt houses. "We fear being beaten and that is why we are hiding with my 12 children because we have no place to go," Raton said. Margaret Chebor said the government should look for amicable solutions instead of making more people IDP's.

"The Sengwer matter was very different from other squatters since this is our land where we were born. Now they come as early as 6am to burn our houses. At the moment I am hiding in the forest with my four children and my house had been burnt," she said.

Late last year, about 2,784 forest dwellers were given Sh400,000 by the government but the Sengwer said they were left out. The High Court in Eldoret had last year ordered suspension of the Sengwers' ejection from the forest until February 6 when a case filed by David Kiptum and other parties on behalf of the community is heard.

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