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Why villagers are unhappy with military offensive

By Benard Sanga | Updated Sun, June 18th 2017 at 00:00 GMT +3
Security officers during an operation around Boni Forest in Lamu County recently. [Photo: File, Standard]

Omar Bwana Barisa was a loyal supporter of the military operation to get rid of Al Shabaab fighters from Boni Forest in Lamu County.

He had a campaign to get the backing of villagers for the onslaught.

But the former police reservist in Lamu and other villagers are now against the operation, citing atrocities many villagers have undergone in the hands of the military and the police since Operation Linda Boni began in 2015.

Beaten senseless

On August 1, 2016, Barisa says he was arrested by soldiers in Basuba and beaten before he was booked at Basuba Police Station by the officers who accused him of being an Al Shabaab sympathiser.

He said he had supplied miraa to three soldiers but when he went to collect his payment, the officers tied his hands and legs and started beating him up.

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“They tied my hands to the back and legs before three soldiers kicked me on the chest, neck and back. I yelled and even told them I would not demand for that pay anymore but they refused to let me go. They booked me as an Al Shabaab sympathiser at a police station,” narrates Barisa.

He was set free three months later after police investigation cleared him without a charge. He says many families are in dilemma as Al Shabaab fighters are also targeting youth from the area.

In tear-jerking details, survivors and affected residents retold tales of immense suffering encountered at the hands of the militia and security forces in the last six years.

Before the security team was deployed in Lamu, all the 13 villages in Basuba Ward were literally under the reign of Al Shabaab fighters who raided at will.

At Milimani, villagers say the militants demanded protection fee or tax in form of food and water from them and occasionally paraded them for incendiary Islamic teachings.

“From 2012 we lived under the reign of Al Shabaab militants. In 2015 they would come to the village and forcibly assemble us outside the mosque and lecture as for hours,” says Ali Tinoa.

Pessimistic

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Tinoa, a peace ambassador among the Boni people, says when the military operation began, many locals were pessimistic. Many families refused to heed the Government request to vacate Basuba, Milimani, Kiongwe and Mangai areas.

According to the Kenya Red Cross Society, there are 930 families in the nine villages affected in the ongoing war between Al Shabaab militants and the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF).

Ali Hamadi, a village elder at Milimani, says scores of families that moved to Baragoni and Hindi returned to the village after the Government failed to assist them to settle elsewhere. He accused security officers deployed to protect them of committing atrocities against them.

The villagers have since filed a formal complaint with the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR), detailing abuse allegedly meted on them by the forces.

They narrate how tens of men have been captured, tortured, branded as Al Shabaab fighters and thrown into military detention camps or police cells.

Abdul Bute demanded justice when he appeared before the KNCHR at Garsen, saying GSU officers herded his wife Amina and sons Mohamed and Yusuf to the crocodile-infested Tana River during ethnic skirmishes. Yusuf aged nine drowned.

“I am seeking justice because instead of protecting my family, GSU officers shot at cooking pots and jerricans and herded my family to the river,” Bute said.

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Ali Halale, 21, from Mararani village in Basuwa Ward recounted how he was confronted by a contingent of KDF officers at Ishakani near Kiunga and clobbered senseless in October last year.

Ali, a fisherman who now suffers frequent seizures, tells Sunday Standard that he was going for tools to repair his boat after it developed mechanical problems when the KDF men ordered him to lie on the ground, kicked and hit his head with various objects.

“I had just began fishing when the boat developed a mechanical problem. I dragged it ashore and went to get tools to repair it.

“But metres away I encountered a contingent of KDF officers who stopped me and ordered me to lie on my stomach. They beat me up and ordered me to run without looking back,” he narrates.

Hindi Jamia imam Sheikh Nurdin Abdullahi narrates how he was also bludgeoned by six administration police officers on September 5, 2014 after he defied a curfew to lead prayers at 7.30pm.

“The officers injured my leg and arm, leaving me crawling back to my house. I was taken to King Fahd Hospital the following morning in critical condition,” Sheikh Abdullahi says.

Villagers spoke of their dilemma over whether to flee to government-held areas or stay put until the bitter end, a situation that has split up many families.

Rock and a hard place

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“It is like we are between a rock and a hard place. Military officers have been arresting and beating up youth who they suspect are Al Shabaab sympathisers.

“On the other hand, if the militants suspect you are aiding the military operation you are dead,” says Tinao.

The Director of Linda Boni operation Mr James Ole did not reply to our request for interview and did not reply to out text messages. Lamu County Commissioner Joseph Kanyiri also did not answer our phone calls.

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