Chebarus residents call on Uhuru to end land dispute with KDF as victims buried

Family members and residents of Chebarus Village viewing the body of the late Joel Kibet Keter during his burial at Chebarus village,Uasin Gishu County on January 5,2021. [Christopher Kipsang,Standard]

Residents of Kiplombe in Turbo sub-county, Uasin Gishu, now want the government to issue them with title deeds to a disputed piece of land, which the military is also claiming, to end perennial conflicts that recently led to the shooting of two people.

Four other people were injured when residents of Chebarus village confronted Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) soldiers from Moi Barracks who had reportedly arrived to demarcate the land, install a military communication booster, and erect beacons on the 5,339 acres.

The shootings happened as soldiers arrived to rescue their colleagues and surveyors who had been held captive by irate residents at Chebarus Primary School that sits on the disputed land.

The residents said they have been living on the land since the 60s and 70s when their parents reportedly bought it and should therefore be given the ownership documents.

Those who spoke on Wednesday during the burial of one of the victims, Joel Keter, said it is only fair that they are issued with title deeds and called for President Uhuru Kenyatta's intervention to end the long-standing that has disturbed the peace of the area.

The 51-year-old Keter was killed alongside Eliud Menjo, 47.

The residents also called for justice for the victims and their families.

"We are calling on the President to intervene and help us resolve the land dispute. Residents, who are the legal owners of this land, should be given title deeds," said one of the residents, Julius Kitur, even as he condemned the Christmas Day killings.

Another resident Tonny Tanui, who is also the secretary of Kiplombe 9 Farms that is part of the disputed land, said: "We hope the blood that was shed on the day we were to celebrate Christmas and have a good time with our families will be the last. We hope the standoff that has existed between us and the KDF who are our neighbors for decades will end.”

Some of the residents called on the government to establish a buffer zone between KDF land and the residents'.

"Despite the conflict, we have been neighbours for many years. We have shared many good moments with members of the KDF. We have also partnered on some issues, including bolstering security in this area. There have been occasions the soldiers have invited residents and even shared meals with them," said Tanui.

However, Tanui said the peace and quiet they enjoyed has since been compromised thanks to the presence of the military.

"It appears the soldiers have turned out to be our worst enemies. They harass and kill our people instead of nurturing and employing them to join the KDF,” said another resident, who declined to be named.

Keter's and Menjo's families as well as families of those who were injured, confirmed receiving Sh1 million from the government following their killings.

Keter was eulogized as a hardworking farmer and businessman who tirelessly fended for his ailing wife and ten children, who are all in school.

Keter was among those who had rushed to the scene following a commotion. He had gone to see what was happening when he was shot. He died on the spot.

"Around noon as he prepared to take his lunch, we heard noise from Chebarus Center. He rushed there and found residents, officers from Chebarus Police Station, and KDF officers. He was shot dead as KDF soldiers dispersed the crowd,” read Keter's eulogy.

Keter's burial at his village in Kolongei home happened the same time as Menjo’s at his ancestral home in Ndalata, Nandi County.

Menjo had relocated to his grandmother’s place in Chebarus. He was shot in the mouth and the bullet exited on the back of his head. He died instantly.

He was herding cattle before dashing to the scene after hearing a lot of noise.

His family and residents called in the government to ensure justice for the father of two.

Uasin Gishu County leaders, including governor Jackson Mandago and Turbo MP Janet Rotich called upon the government to settle the land dispute and help the families get justice for their loved.

Mandago faulted the KDF accusing it of ignoring court orders that barred it from interfering with the disputed land until a court case that has been pending since 2019 is determined.