Agony, tension heighten as villagers bury 11 attack victims

Members of Gabra community in Forole village within North Horr Sub County in Marsabit County bury bodies of 11 elders who were shot dead by militia believed to have come from Ethiopia. [Jacinta Mutura/Standard]
The 11 elders shot dead by armed bandits in Forole, near Kenya-Ethiopia border were buried in a mass grave on Wednesday.

The men were killed on Monday at about 11am by bandits believed to have crossed the border from Ethiopia.

Although there have been previous deaths from bandit attacks in the area, residents of Forole village described Monday’s as one of the worst. 

The bodies were collected from an open field on the Kenya-Ethiopia border on Tuesday, as details of events leading to their slaughter began to trickle in.

Reports indicate that the elders might have been lured to their deaths by their attackers, who invited them to a “peace” meeting at the border.

The elders were made to believe they were going to meet their equals from the Ethiopian side to discuss how to share a waterhole and pasture.

Conflict triger

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Much of the tragic conflict in the area is triggered by water and pasture.

According to villagers, the unsuspecting elders walked to the venue of the “meeting” about two kilometres from the village and sat under a tree to wait for another group of elders.

The other elders never turned up. Instead, they were ambushed by heavily armed bandits and shot dead. Two escaped with gunshot wounds while four are still missing.

“It was a well-planned attack because they were killed barely 30 minutes after they arrived. They were first shot on the legs before the gang sprayed bullets on their heads, killing them all on the spot,” said Barako Guracha, an elder and a former councilor.

Another version has it that the team from Forole village was on a mission to attack Ethiopian elders when the killings occurred. This theory has, however, been denied by national police spokesperson Charles Owino.

“The information we have is that they were on a peace mission to resolve the stand-off,” said Mr Owino.

But Marsabit County Commissioner Gilbert Kitiyo faulted the elders for going to a meeting without involving security agencies.

Security agencies

“Something is not adding up. Why would the elders agree to go to a meeting in the bush with people unknown to them and fail to involve representatives from security agencies from both countries?” he said.

As speculation and blame games continue, the smell of death continues to linger over Forole village, where 11 families have been left without breadwinners.

The killings have caused pain, fear, tension and uncertainty in the village.

The Standard found Teso Dulacha, 30, sitting outside her thatched house staring vacantly into the bushes. Her husband, Budha Mamo, 45, was among the 11 killed, leaving her and the future of 21 children whose lives depended on him uncertain.

Besides taking care of his own children, Mamo was also the sole breadwinner for his brother’s family. The brother was also killed by bandits.

“We depended on him for everything,” said his son, Jillo Gutu.

Contemplating leaving

Like many other villagers, Mamo’s family is now contemplating leaving the village. But it does not know where to.

Boya Yattani, who lost his two brothers in Monday’s killings, blames the government for disarming police reservists in March this year.

Ironically, the reservists were disarmed to bring peace in the conflict-ravaged area. But according to Yattani, disarming their only protectors made the villagers sitting ducks for armed bandits.

“The Government should bring in soldiers to stop these killings,” he said.

The killings have also fueled anger in the region, raising the spectre of retaliatory attacks.

“We won’t sit and watch our people being killed on our own land,” said Ali Adamo.

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ForoleKenya-Ethiopia borderMarsabit killingsMarsabit Elders