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Residents flee as security officers intensify operation

06 November 2014, 08:09

Lodwar - Hundreds of residents in Turkana and Baringo counties of are fleeing their homes as security officers intensify operation in the troubled counties rich in oil and geothermal gas.

The security forces have sealed off exits along the Kenya- Uganda border to stop bandits from fleeing in the ongoing joint operation by the police and Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) in parts of Baringo and Turkana.

KDF launched a security operation to help the police flush out those who killed 24 police officers in Kapedo and Turkana last Friday.

Some leaders have claimed the discovery of huge deposits of oil in Turkana County, which is heightening conflicts between Turkana and Pokot pastoralists with fear that it will escalate to the Lokichar area, where drilling of crude oil is currently going on.

Border points of the two communities witness perennial insecurity with education and other economic activities halted from time to time.

The communal animosity has left over 60 people dead in the past months. In the past two weeks, over 30 including 24 police officers were killed prompting the national government to send soldiers to support in a security operation.

According to Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Markomen, the existence of the natural resources at the disputed border is fueling insecurity as the two communities' claim ownership.

"The scramble for lucrative resources is intensifying communal conflict and unless immediate intervention is stepped in, there will be more blood clashes between the two communities," Markomen who is also a lawyer warned on Wednesday.

Economic activities have come to a standstill after the government deployed troops to pursue bandits and recover several guns stolen by bandits from the slain officers.

Evidently, there was heavy presence of heavily armed police officers in schools along the border to protect students doing their final examinations.

Oil deposits and geothermal energy has also been discovered at Lomelo area along the common border of Turkana and Baringo counties and sparked land feud between the two communities.

Paramilitary police and security agents are manning all border points in Turkana North and Pokot North and combing hills to flush out the bandits.

Also read: Five guns recovered as operation continues in Kapedo

"We have tightened security in all areas to ensure that we arrest all those involved in criminal activities in the region," said Turkana County Commissioner James Mathenge on Wednesday.

Pokot elders have so far found six abandoned guns out of 21 stolen from the slain officers. The guns are handed over to the chief, then to the Kenya Red Cross and finally the government. However, the firearms being surrendered have no bullets.

"They have surrendered a number of the guns, but unfortunately they have decided to remain with the bullets and jungle belts belonging to the slain police officers," said a local government official.

Warriors from the Pokot community have in the past weeks traversed the border in apparent attempt to occupy the area pretty of natural resources.

Turkana lawmaker James Lomenen said KDF must disarm all bandits to ensure lasting peace.

"We want all Kenyans who value peace to support this operation so that we can achieve lasting stability in the region," said Lomenen.

Heavily armed Pokot warriors last Friday ambushed and indiscriminately sprayed officers with bullets, killing 21 police officers on the spot and some civilians.

The officers were headed to Kasarani area between Kapedo and Lomelo, a scene where three of their colleagues were slain and their vehicle burned.

President Uhuru Kenyatta flew to the troubled region and ordered the residents of surrender the firearms. "We want the attackers surrender with the guns seized from the slain officers. It will not business as usual," warned Kenyatta.

In a show of his seriousness, the government military helicopters, tanks, lorries have since Sunday conducting aerial and ground bombardment to track down the criminals.

A humanitarian worker in the area said there were some bombing in areas where bandits are believed to be hiding.

"The soldiers have bombed some areas they suspect to be the hideout for the bandits. The area affected is remote and inaccessible and it is not possible if there is any casualty," said the worker who declined to be named due to security reasons.

The high presence of the security personnel has caused panic and some residents of Chemalingot are fleeing their homes, fearing to fall victims of alleged military brutality.

But Baringo County Commissioner Peter Okwanyo has denied any use of excessive force by the soldiers engaged in the operation arguing the offensive against the bandits.

"Our officers are not applying excessive force. The operation has a human face and our target is to arrest the attackers and recover the lost guns," Okwanyo told Xinhua via phone.

The official urged the residents to be calm and corporate with the officers in bid to apprehend the bandits.

Okwanyo, however, warned that the government will apply excessive force if the community fails to return back the missing guns and uniform.

Intelligence reports in Kapenguria indicated that several Pokot warriors from Tiaty constituency are crossing the border to Amdat district in Eastern Uganda to evade the disarmament.

Sources told Xinhua that some warriors were spotted on Tuesday evening crossing the border at Olwala near Kacheliba.

"The government had not put in place security measures to ensure the bandits involved in the killing don't escape. Most of the culprits have already escaped the country," said a police officer versed with security operations in the region.

However, KDF and senior police officers overseeing the exercise confirmed on Wednesday all entry points have since been sealed.

 - Xinhua

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