Villagers flee as GSU moves in to pursue policeman's killers

A contingent of security personnel on standby at Kamaindi shopping center after they launched a manhunt for suspects who killed a chief and later two police officers who were pursuing the suspects. [Mose Sammy/Standard]
Villagers started fleeing their homes after a contingent of General Service Unit (GSU) officers was deployed to Kamaindi village of Tharaka-Nithi County and Ugweri market of Embu.

The deployment follows the killing of a senior police officer at Ugweri. The policeman was killed as he pursued a suspect in the killing of a chief at Kamaindi, Tharaka-Nithi.

Chuka OCS Joseph Kinyua was killed on Wednesday, as he pursued the suspects in the gruesome murder of Chief Japheth Mayau Mukengu on Tuesday, April 30.

Seven suspects had by last evening been arrested in connection with the incident.

Five of them were arrested in a probe on the chief's killing, while two are in police custody in connection with the murder of the OCS.

Five of the suspects were yesterday arraigned in a Chuka court, where police were allowed to continue holding them for two weeks to conclude investigations.

Bitter dispute

What started off as a bitter dispute over the use of the waters of River Thuci has escalated into hostility, murder, and now, fear for residents of Kamaindi village.

Kamaindi sits along Mate Highway, which connects Embu, Tharaka-Nithi and Meru counties. Like hundreds of shopping centres along the road, store front shops facing the highway host a variety of businesses, from butcheries, general shops, hotels and bars.

But yesterday, stores at the shopping centre remained closed and abandoned, with no signs of life except for the occasional village dog sheltering underneath an acacia tree and a few stray hens.

When The Standard visited the village yesterday, six police vehicles were parked outside what used to be the late Chief Mukengu’s offices, with armed police officers patrolling the deserted centre.

At the late Chief Mukengu’s home, his widow declined to be interviewed. Her neighbours had all fled, leaving livestock to graze on the freshly planted farms; something that would never have occurred had the owners been around.

At Ugweri, residents who spoke to journalists on condition of anonymity, described how the OCS was killed.

They said a police vehicle parked near a butchery at the market. Three men alighted from the vehicle and walked towards the butchery. Ten minutes later, some commotion was heard at the butchery followed by gunshots and screaming.

A witness said when he peeked into the butchery, he saw two men holding a machete and two police officers shooting in the air to disperse a big crowd that had gathered.

“We then saw two men being carried by a group of people. They were bleeding profusely. We learnt one of them was the Chuka police station OCS,” said the witness.

Chief Mukengu was killed by an irate crowd at his brother Gikware Mukengu’s home when he went to resolve what police termed a grazing dispute.

His brother had been accused of detaining goats owned by a resident, Gitonga Kibuibe, who went missing in December last year.

Burned body

However, upon the chief's arrival at his brother's compound, the villagers turned their rage on him and hacked him to death before burning his body.

Kinyua was tasked with hunting down the killers. He tracked down the suspected killer, David Ikaaba, to Ugweru shopping centre, some 30km from Kamaindi village.

According to Eastern Regional Police Commander Esther Kihiko, the OCS confronted the suspect, who grabbed an axe and attacked him.

"Kinyua succumbed to his injuries on the way to hospital, and in trying to control the situation, police opened fire, killing Ikaaba," said Ms Kihiko.

Before the death of the chief, the bone of contention for the villagers of Kamaindi was the death of a villager and the fight to control the precious waters of River Thuci, which residents had earlier accused the slain chief's kin of diverting.

On December 12, last year, one villager, Gitonga Kibuibe, went missing after he made his daily sojourn to the river with his animals, generating more suspicion and seething hatred between the villagers and the chief.

Brief calm

After Kibuibe's disappearance, calm was restored following the intervention of the chief's bosses that saw the river diversion removed. It held until April 4, when the remains believed to be Kibuibe's were found in the river at the spot where the diversion had been located.

This reignited the cloud of suspicion between the villagers and the chief.

With no evidence to back their suspicion, no suspect was arrested, but the seething anger grew. It erupted on Tuesday when the chief's brother detained a herd of goats belonging to Kibuibe's family.

The villagers then stormed the homestead. It was when the chief arrived to try solving the issue that the villagers killed him, and burnt his body.

But one villager, who only identified herself as Kathare, defended the villagers, saying the chief was killed by a gang that had been hired by the suspect, Ikaaba, to help him recover his goats from Ugweri shopping centre in Embu.

For now the villagers who had so murderously meted out their anger on their chief, keep away from their homes and businesses, hoping the Government will eventually let them be.

Police have vowed that the security operation will not stop until all of the killers are brought to book.

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Kamaindi villageTharaka-Nithi CountyTharaka Nithi Killings