There is an urgent need for increased humanitarian assistance and international engagement in Kenya’s Mt Elgon region, according to the medical charity Médecins sans Frontières, which accused government forces in the western area of killing and torturing civilians during an anti-insurgency campaign.
“If we do not have comprehensive engagement from the international actors pushing for a resolution to prevent more flare up, we will be stuck in the current situation,” Jerome Oberreit, MSF Director of Operations, said at a news conference held in Nairobi to launch a report entitled “Mount Elgon: does anybody care?”.
“Mt Elgon is one of the forgotten crises of the past year. We have seen a population that has been traumatised by the violence; it’s unacceptable that this has gone on for a year,” he added.
When contacted for a reaction to the MSF report, a government official declined to comment.
Rémi Carrier, head of MSF’s mission in Kenya, said the violence peaked after the government deployed security forces - comprising the army and police - to Mt Elgon in March to quell an insurgency by the Sabaot Land Defense Force (SDLF), which claims to be defending the land rights of the dominant Sabaot community in the district.
In its report, MSF said it had treated 293 victims of violent trauma between January and April, and that casualty numbers increased significantly within the period of the government operation. “Two hundred and fifty-two people received care between March and April 14th alone,” the report said.
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SLDF was formed in response to alleged injustices committed during a land distribution scheme. The conflict pits two main clans of the Sabaot community – the Mosop (also known as Ndorobo) and the Soy – against each other.
In March, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights called for investigations into torture allegedly committed by the security forces Mount Elgon. The commission wrote to the UN High Commissioner for Human rights, Louise Arbour, and recommended the suspension of Kenyan armed forces in UN peace keeping missions.
The MSF report said: “Although the operation was initially welcomed, many criticize it now for using excessive force and causing significant casualties.”
The report also detailed accounts of victims who had been physically abused by the SDLF and the police.
“MSF teams on the ground have been traumatized; it’s something that we did not expect to see,” Carrier said. “We have seen people who have been beaten, their hair yanked off.”
“The needs of these people are enormous, we require more resources, and this has been an enormous challenge,” Carrier said.
“We have been alone, working with just a handful of organizations, such as the Kenya Red Cross, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the local church communities.”
MSF said the onset of the cold season was making the situation worse.
“We are seeing a lot of pneumonia, tracheal problems among the victims. There are also incidences of diarrhoea, malaria and cases of malnutrition, said Carrier.”
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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