Mt Elgon military operation draws concern

Reports indicate that Kenya’s military operation against tribal militia in Mt Elgon could result into an Abu-Ghraib like scandal with serious consequences for its Army.

Since units of the Kenya Army and paramilitary police began joint operations against the Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF), human rights organizations have said that hundreds of people have been tortured in military camps. Reports also say that several deaths have occurred as a result of interrogation techniques used by the security forces. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of men have fled Mt Elgon district following indiscriminate arrests, torture and beatings by security personnel who are determined to rid the district of militia and illegal firearms.

The Army has denied claims of torture saying that the victims appearing in the press had been tortured by the SLDF. Kenyan media has published graphic images of extreme injuries said to have been inflicted by army officers. Minister of Defence, Mohammed Yusuf Haji, has also denied military involvement in torture. Mr Haji challenged the alleged victims to report their cases to police for investigations.

The latest victim is a prison warder based at the Bungoma Prison. The warder claims that the military arrested and tortured him allegedly because his brother was linked to the SLDF. Coming soon after a national prison warder’s strike early this week, this particular case attracted bitterness amongst the man’s colleagues. Prisons authorities resent the military’s operations saying that torture victims are frequently dumped in prisons for prosecution, leaving prison warders to take the flak.

Military operations against SLDF began in March this year following the end of post-elections violence in February. The SLDF, which for close to a year had been nothing more than a nuisance, took advantage of post-polls chaos to extend its reach. By the end of February, the SLDF controlled the whole of Mt Elgon District and parts of Trans Nzoia.

Since 2006, the SLDF ran a low-intensity conflict against ethnic groups that had settled around Mt Elgon. The SLDF says it wants to regain lost ancestral land. Hundreds were killed, houses burnt and cattle looted. Civil servants fled the area to escape extortion by the SLDF.

The military operations of the Kenya government have wrecked more havoc in two months than the SLDF did in two years. Theres mounting evidence of human rights abuses and worse. If the claims about torture turn out to be true, then the Kenya Army will lose its reputation as one of the few professional armies in Africa.

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