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Raila blames border killings on military laxity

By | May 19th 2011 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

By Alex Ndegwa

Failure by the military to live up to its mandate is to blame for the killing of Kenyans by Ethiopian militia from the Merille tribe three weeks ago.

The Ministry of Defence and top security organs had prior intelligence from the National Security Intelligence Service (NSIS), which falls under the Ministry of Internal Security, warning of the impending attacks, but the army was nowhere in sight.

An aerial view of Todonyang in Turkana where Merille militia from Ethiopia attacked and killed over 20 Kenyans. [PHOTO:JAMES NGASIKE/STANDARD]

Responding to questions in Parliament over the attacks, Prime Minister Raila Odinga

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said it is the responsibility of the Army, Air Force, and the Navy to protect the country from external aggression.

And members were stunned to learn that up to 2,500 Merille are tilling land in the River Omo Delta in Kenya, even as members of the Turkana community are dying of hunger.

Heated debate

The lax response by the Government even when its neighbours violate its territory was raised. Raila said the Ethiopian tribesmen who killed at least 20 Kenyans in Turkana three weeks ago, would soon be evicted by the military and relocated to their country.

Debate on the matter was heated during the PM’s question time in the House, as infuriated MPs pressed him on why the defence forces had not secured the country’s borders, and when the Merille would be forced out of the land they occupy 17km inside Kenya in Todonyang.

Raila said neither the DC nor Kenyan security officers could access the River Omo Delta occupied by the invaders, among them 900 armed militiamen who "use the arms to kill our citizens while exploiting our land and water resources".

Asked by the chairman of Parliament’s National Security Committee Fred Kapondi and joint Government Whip Johnstone Muthama to explain how soon the invaders would be evicted, Raila responded: "The notice has already been given to the community to move out of Kenyan soil. If they don’t they will be rounded up either as refugees or the Ethiopians will be asked to take them back."

The PM said the Ministry of Defence has been given "specific instructions" to ensure the country’s territorial integrity and safety from external aggression in all places, including Migingo and Ugingo islands on Lake Victoria.

Chain of command

It emerged that Igembe South MP Mithika Linturi said if intelligence reports were not acted upon it amounted to negligence and he questioned why the chain of command never ordered the security forces to avert the attack.

"I really don’t want to be drawn into that," Raila replied. The PM, however, briefed Parliament on security measures a Cabinet Committee on Security chaired by President Kibaki agreed to in the wake of the bloody raid.

He said the Internal Security and Defence ministries had been instructed to ensure the relocation to Ethiopia of 2,500 Merilles he found one week ago "preparing the land for cultivation" in the Omo-Turkana delta within the Kenya side of the Kenya-Ethiopia border.

Raila said the Internal Security and Defence ministries had been directed to deploy joint security forces, including the military, closer to the country’s borders.

"It’s the responsibility of the military to protect the country’s borders. When people invade our country there should be no question whose responsibility it is to protect our borders. It is not the failure of the (regular) police or Administration police," he said.

The PM added that number of security officers would be increased in the volatile region and Todonyang Police Post upgraded to a police station. Along the Kenya/Ethiopia border, he said, the Government had relocated the GSU and AP camps at Todonyang to the actual border point 14km away.

Boundary beacons

Further authorities had vetted "responsible and respected" men from the Turkana community to immediately take up positions as Kenya Police Reservists along the border. The ministries of Internal Security, Lands, and Foreign Affairs had also been tasked to ensure the broken and dilapidated boundary beacons are repaired, he added.

In addition, authorities will speed up the delimitation, demarcation and delineation of Kenya’s boundaries with neighbouring countries.

"We are taking steps to put these acts of aggression to a stop, once and for all," Raila said.

The PM noted that Kenya and Ethiopian authorities would hold a Joint Ministerial Consultative meeting in Addis Ababa between May 31 and June 2. Prior to the visit, a joint Kenya-Ethiopia border commissioners’ meeting will be held in Nairobi on May 25-26, he added.

Genesis of the raid

Raila explained the genesis of the raid, saying a Kenyan of Turkana origin who had gone to look for food on the Ethiopian side of the border was killed by the Merille, and his community retaliated by killing four Merilles. The Ethiopian militia then struck back killing 19 Kenyans in Todonyang.

He said the killings came after a fairly prolonged period of calm following the peace accord signed by the two communities in 2006 at Todonyang. The PM said the receding waters of Lake Turkana had moved the Delta into Kenyan soil sparking a dispute with Ethiopians.

Raila said the Government would address other problems facing the Turkana region, which has been neglected.

Economic empowerment

He said the Government would scale up food distribution in the next two months to ensure nobody dies of hunger, and to reduce the need by the local population to cross into Ethiopia in search for food.

The Government, he added, intends to embark on a massive economic empowerment of the region to provide a reliable and constant source of water and food.

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