Police brutalise villagers in search of missing Italian

Sylvia Constanza Romano the Italian aid worker who was kidnapped in Kilifi on November 20. [Maxwell Agwanda, Standard]
Police have arrested at least 100 people in connection with the abduction of Italian aid worker Sylvia Constanza Romano, even as residents of Coast region accuse police of brutality.

Reports indicated that hundreds of police and military officers surrounded Chira and Bilisa villages in Garsen constituency.

Until last week, police believed Ms Sylvia was being held in Assa village in Garsen, near Boni Forest.

The aid worker was abducted from an orphanage in Chakama village in Kilifi on November 20.

Arrests have continued, with security forces remaining mum on progress made, if any.

Yesterday, terrified villagers told journalists they no longer trusted security heads in Tana Delta sub-county after what officers put them through over the weekend.

“Even a former chief of this area is in police custody and we don’t know the motive. Without proper coordination and cooperation with police then the operation may fail. Attacking our village just because a woman was abducted in Chakama in Kilifi is not right,” said Hussein Santur, a Chara elder.

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Mr Santur claimed police officers roughed up anybody on sight, including women, children and the elderly.

“It is like they don’t want (Sylvia) to be saved from her abductors and we have been feeding police with information only for them to turn against us and take all of us in custody,” he said.

He added that women and the elderly were released on Sunday afternoon but with strict instructions to appear at the region’s Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) offices today.

Adan Gure Omar, also an elder, accused police of malice.

“I usually cooperate with security personnel as a village elder but the Saturday act was in very bad taste. How can you arrest 10-year-olds and lactating women? This is shocking,” he said.

Mr Gure added that villagers were whipped and many were nursing various injuries, especially those who were still in police custody.

“They told us to appear before the DCI office in Minjila on December 18 and we all have the letters,” he said displaying some letters from the area DCI office written by one Felix Mbuvi.

Women said they were forced to abandon their babies as they were being taken into custody.

“Security officers came and asked many questions. (They asked) if we had seen visitors around and we told them we haven’t seen anyone,” said Fatma Ali.

Ms Fatma said they were pulled out of their houses and forced to board police vehicles. They were taken to Minjila Police Station, while men were taken to Gamba, she added.

Peace elders

“They told us to produce the mzungu ‘whom we had abducted’ and they thoroughly beat us. They even mistook me for the mzungu yet I don’t know her,” said Halima Hassan, another victim.

Yesterday, Coast Regional Police Commander Noah Mwivanda denied reports that 100 people were arrested at Chara on Saturday only confirming arrests at Sera.

Mr Mwivanda said those arrested were in the hands of anti-terror officers who were investigating the matter.

“The information is very sensitive and cannot be divulged in full because we are working round the clock to save the girl,” he said.

Seven elders from Garjal community are said to be among those arrested in Tana Delta.

Locals said a team of officers drawn from the Kenya Defence Forces, Rapid Deployment Unit and regular police picked up the peace elders - matadeda - from their homes in chira village.

The officers later arrested the elders and took them to Gamba police station where they spent the night, while others were detained at Minjilla in Garsen town, according to locals. Herders were arrested at Ngumu and Assa villages in the outskirts of Garsen as tension gripped villages along Garsen-Hola road.

Retaliatory move

Sahara Kheir, whose relative was arrested, said women and herders were apprehended in Ngumu and Chira.

Those arrested are being held at Gamba and Garsen police stations.

Initially, the Government came up with several theories for the abduction, including robbery. It, however, ruled out terrorism. But authorities in Tana River and Kilifi counties later claimed the abductors were trying to sneak her into Somalia.

Authorities recently claimed the kidnap was plotted by three men, adding that one was arrested in Bangale division in Tana River. All routes leading to Somalia have been blocked, the officials added.

Last week, boat transport on River Tana was banned for fear the 23-year-old Italian could be sneaked by canoe into the Indian Ocean.

Among those detained since last month is a senior Kenya Wildlife Service official and a nominated MCA, amid claims Sylvia was abducted in retaliation to the killing of an Al Shabaab commander in Ijara, Garissa.

Other reports linked the killing to a fallout between some Italian adventurers.

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