25 February 2016

Kenya: Families Halt Burials As Confusion Reigns Over DNA Tests Results

Families of soldiers who were killed in the January 15 attack at El-Adde in Somalia continue to live in agony, pain and uncertainty as they wait for DNA test results before burying their kinsmen.

The Kenya Defence Forces (KDF), too is grappling with a complex situation in which some of the bereaved families are declining to bury bodies assumed to be those of their relatives, saying they were not involved in the identification process.

Some families have received results from KDF identifying bodies of their relatives only to be called after burial arrangements have been made, to be informed that the DNA results were faulty.

Such families include that of Evans Ochieng' Abong'o, a whose family in Oyugis, Homa Bay County, received a call from the forces after the attack, telling them that he had died.

"We started the burial arrangements immediately and we scheduled the burial for February 12. But on February 11, the day we were supposed to collect the body from Nairobi, we received a call telling us that there was a mistake in the DNA results and that we should wait a little longer," the dead soldier's mother, Ms Rhoda Abong'o, said.

It emerged that another family had claimed the body thought to have belonged to Mr Ochieng'.

Similarly, a Migori family on Thursday sought an explanation from the government on how remains of their dead son, Mr Fabian Omondi were identified.

The family said they were surprised to get a phone call from the KDF that Mr Omondi's body would be ferried to their Migori home on Saturday for burial on Sunday.

This, even after they failed to identify his body among those in the mortuaries.

Mr George Otieno Oyiro, a brother of the deceased said they made several trips to KDF's Eldoret Barracks and Nairobi but could not identify his body.

STILL IN THE DARK

Families fear burying a wrong body for fear of the consequences which include elaborate cleansing rituals.

Mr Opiyo Otindo, the chairman of the Luo Council of Elders, on Thursday said the community's customs dictate that if a family buried the wrong body, it is exhumed and a log put in its place followed by the rituals.

The elders have to meet and decide on the way forward. "We have to talk about it and prepare the family of the outcomes," Mr Opiyo said.

In Twale village, Meru a family had to stop the burial of their son, Mr David Gitonga, after a DNA mix-up.

That family too, is waiting for a confirmed identification of their kin's body.

The soldier's father Mr Selesio Riunu said the family had made funeral arrangements and even dug a grave, only to receive a call informing them that the DNA profiling on the body did not match those collected from the family members.

The family had to call in elders from Njuri Ncheke to cleanse the grave they had already dug before they could fill it up, as the Meru community believes it's a taboo to leave an empty grave open since it attracts more deaths.

As Mr Gitonga's family waits for news about their son who is believed to be among the unspecified number of soldiers who died in the El-Adde attack, his father has appealed for KDF to speed up the DNA identification process.

Other families have not received any news about their untraced kin, and keep moving from the DOD headquarters, the Forces Memorial Hospital and the 9KR in Eldoret where most of the fallen soldiers belonged, hoping to establish their kins' whereabouts.

DEATH TOLL

On Thursday, the family of Stephen Mayaka said they have not heard anything about his whereabouts even after giving samples for DNA analysis on January 22.

"My brother's wife and three children are in agony. There is too much pain already, knowing that he died. We want to be given his body so that we can bury him," his brother, John Mayaka said.

Meanwhile, the Department of Defence has rejected reports attributed to Somali government, its allies in the war against Al-Shabaab, that up to 200 Kenyan troops were killed in the attack.

Kenya has not disclosed the number of soldiers who died, but Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud on Wednesday told a Somali language TV station the death toll was between 180 and 200.

Justifying why he took part in a recent memorial service for the fallen soldiers in Eldoret, Mr Mohamoud argued the Kenyan troops were not ordinary and went further to give a hint of the number of the dead.

"Foreigners die in their countries and we don't go to their memorials. But when 180 to 200 boys who were sent to Somalia for the sole reason of bringing peace and helping the people of Somalia to foster peace are killed, it is not like any other death," he said.

His revelation of the death toll roiled military officials in Nairobi and could trigger yet another diplomatic spat with Mogadishu.

Kenya Defence Forces spokesman, Col David Obonyo said: "KDF and Ministry of Defence are not the source of this information. We do not have this information."

Reported by Stella Cherono, Angela Oketch, Maurice Kaluoch, Aggrey Mutambo and Fred Mukinda

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