Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Scores of Mandera residents in North Eastern province of kenya are fleeing the area as the Kenyan army units beefs up its presence in the troubled district bordering Somalia. They are seeking refuge in neighbouring Wajir Town. The worst affected are civil servants and aid workers. A spot-check by the Nation showed that the few lodges in the town were overbooked by the fleeing families.

The soldiers were deployed with armoured personnel carriers, tanks, anti-aircraft missiles and other heavy military weapons at the weekend. The army was seen moving through Wajir Town, and residents were hardly to be found watching the operation. Witnesses said the army was now based in Elwak Town, monitoring lawlessness in the border area. The deployment came a few days after Somali gunmen abducted two Italian nuns. The military reinforcement is likely to result in war between Kenya and Islamist fighters, who previously accused the Kenya Government of helping the interim Somalia government. Al-Shabaab, an Islamist guerilla outfit with a strong base in neighbouring Gedo region, recently said it would wage war against Kenya for training Somalia’s police as they are opposed to any form of assistance to their enemy. The military operation, which the Government had scaled down after sharp criticism, is now said to be continuing with alleged harassment. When contacted, the Department of Defence spokesman Bogita Ongeri said the military has always been on the border and had moved to Elwak following incursions by the Somali militia last week.

“We have been there and moved to Elwak following the attack. We are within the Kenyan territory to safeguard our border. We are taking normal patrol along the border to avoid another situation like that,” he said.

Two herders allegedly harmed by the Kenyan soldiers over the weekend are admitted to Elwak District Hospital. Tension is still high in Elwak. With the heavy army presence, the town now looks like a buffer zone. Elwak is in Mandera Central constituency and is near the flashpoint of the recent Garre-Murulle clan clashes.

Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) said it was working with local leaders to address the needs of those fleeing. Residents said they were moving out of the area for fear of being arrested by the army, who were earlier accused of torture by the locals during a recent operation.

“Nobody can wait a repeat of what happened recently,” said a former councillor, Mr Hassan Mohammed.

The Kenyan army were operational in the hunt of Islamic movement leaders along the Kenya Somalia border during the past years.