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Tourists flee Lamu as residents express fear for their own safety

By | October 5th 2011 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

By Paul Gitau

There has been massive cancellation of hotel bookings and exodus of tourists from Lamu as residents accused the Government of laxity in securing the archipelago.

Kiunga residents appealed to Government to quickly establish a security base at the border point to end incursions by Somali militia from the nearby Ras Kiamboni area.

They said even though security forces were aware that criminals infiltrated the country through the Kiunga border entry point, they had failed to secure it even after the first attack on tourists at Kiwayu Safari Hotel where a Briton was killed.

On Tuesday, Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere flew to the area where he met a combined team of Kenyan security forces. The police boss vowed to remain in Lamu until there was co-ordination to ward off terror attacks.

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A hotelier, Mr Ghalib Alawi said the consequence of the twin attacks on tourists at Kiwayu and Manda was to bring tourism in the area to its knees. He urged the Government to secure the area and move fast to market the destination abroad.

"We have been badly affected as tourists are fleeing the area while bookings are cancelled. The Government should improve security," Alawi said.

A total of 500 hotel workers were already reported to be jobless as the impact of the terror attacks began to be felt. Kiwayu Safari Hotel alone reported sending 120 of its workers home following the attack.

Jobs at stake

Hotel staff interviewed said their jobs were at stake as hoteliers were giving Lamu a wide berth following the kidnapping of British and French women at a villa on Manda Island last weekend.

A Government official in Lamu told The Standard a notice had been issued by the Tourism ministry to hoteliers not to close their establishments as the action could trigger panic and have a long term effect on the industry.

The official said written notices were issued on Tuesday to in a bid to rescue the industry following a verbal appeal by Tourism Minister Najib Balala when he visited Lamu last Monday. Fishing and water transport in the isle were also hard hit following closure of sea operations at night to allow security operations proceed.

A Kiunga resident and fisherman, Mr Saad Mohamed blamed the police for sitting back and waiting for another attack by foreign gangs before swinging into action.

"After the first attack at Kiwayu, police should have acted. Why did our security wait for another attack for them to take action? It is too late because tourism and other economic activities have been affected," Mohamed said.

Mohamed asked the Government to give local residents guns to serve as police reservists so as to protect themselves against aggressors from Somalia. A fisherman, Mr Omar Swaleh said they now feared venturing into the deep sea even during the day for fear of being attacked or kidnapped.

"We feel fishermen will be the next victims after tourists have fled Lamu. It is becoming dangerous to venture into deep sea," Swaleh said.

Economic crisis

He noted that the main source of income for residents was tourism and fishing and, therefore, they feared an economic crisis following the attacks and subsequent curfew.

Another resident, Mr Juma Omar, also blamed police laxity for the woes bedeviling the region.

"Police are to blame for all the trouble because the border entry point is well known. There is also the presence of the police and Navy at Kiunga but they failed to act. We demand that the Government establish a combined security base to deal with crime here," he said.

Iteere and Coast PC Ernest Munyi pitched tent in Lamu to co-ordinate security operations. They toured Ras Kitau on Manda Island, Kiwayu and Kiunga.

At Kiunga, Iteere and Munyi addressed combined security forces and held a closed door meeting with local elders pleading with them to assist the Government crush the insurgents.

"We are appealing for assistance from the community in fighting crime because there is no way criminals can walk into the country from Somalia without the assistance of local people," Iteere said.

He told Lamu residents the Government had the necessary capacity to deal with insecurity but it was currently co-ordinating the security personnel deployed in the area.

There were two naval ships and military helicopters stationed in Kiunga on Tuesday to beef up security at the troubled border.

Meanwhile, security personnel are still searching for the body of a naval officer after a sea mishap at the weekend during an operation to rescue kidnapped French woman, Ms Marie Didieu.

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