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SLDF militia could be regrouping for attacks

By | March 17th 2009

By Roselyne Obala and Robert Wanyonyi

A year after the military routed the Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF) militia from Mt Elgon, tension is creeping into the region again.

The uneasy calm that lasted for a year is being shattered, with information doing the rounds in villages that remnants of the killer gang could be re-grouping.

The big question on the lips of many residents is whether the SLDF was eradicated or merely driven into hiding.

Word has it that SLDF spokesman John Kanai now under police arrest, and stand-in commander David Sichei Chemaimak, who is on the run, have given orders to regroup.

Scared residents now want the military to return and prevent a resurgence of the terror gang.

Army urged to return

Last week, they demonstrated and urged the Government to increase military personnel in the district.

Soldiers pursue suspected SLDF members in Mt Elgon during ‘Operation Okoa Maisha’ last year.

They also demonstrated against the release of former members of SLDF by the courts, some of whom they claimed, were scheming revenge against those who pointed them out to the security personnel.

The demonstrations came after courts released more than 600 SLDF suspects, citing lack of evidence.

"We are demanding that those released by the courts be re-arrested. They are known SLDF members and commanders who are now threatening us," said one of the protestors.

They marched to Kopsiro divisional headquarters and demanded that DO Sylvester Mwangulu address them.

"I have listened to your grievances and I will hand them over to higher offices for immediate action. You can go back to your farms and work because this is the planting season," he told them.

"We want the army back here because freed SLDF suspects are threatening us," says former Mt Elgon County Council chairman George Makass.

And The Standard has established from a reliable source within the army, that a mini-military operation may be in the offing.

Night meetings

This follows intelligence reports indicating Chemaimak has been sneaking from his hideout in Uganda, for night meetings in the area.

Kanai on his part was arrested in July last year, four months after the military operation was launched.

He and two of his accomplices were arrested in Tororo, Uganda, and handed over by Ugandan authorities to Kenyan security led by Western PC Abdul Mwasserah.

He was briefly held at Kapkota army base before being handed to police for prosecution.

His arrest left Chemaimak as the only SLDF commander.

The other commander Wycliffe Kirui Komon, 24, alias Matakwei was gunned down in May, last year.

Both of them come from the populous Cheptais division and from the Soy clan of the Sabaot community.

Kanai is being held at an undisclosed location, but has been appearing in court for mention of his case.

He is charged with being a member of an illegal group and promoting war-like activities.

Investigations by The Standard have established that SLDF remnants are not only planning revenge, but have also quietly been demanding illegal taxes, like they did before.

Residents demonstrate last week against the withdrawal of the military from Mt Elgon. Photos: Benjamin Sakwa/Standard

"Majority of suspected members of SLDF released from custody due to lack of evidence are now on a revenge mission," said a resident who refused to be named.

He said villagers have been receiving cell phone messages from the militia’s remnants demanding payment of between Sh7,000 and Sh10,000 a month depending on one’s income.

"We no longer live in peace. These people are re-grouping and the military should be recalled before the situation gets out of hand," he added.

Leaflets have also been dropped in various market centres in the district, warning residents that new attacks would be launched by SLDF.

"You thought we are finished, sorry, we are coming back in full force… SLDF plus the LRA (Lords Resistance Army of Uganda), when the military leaves," reads one of the leaflets.

New recruits

The leaflets have terrified many residents, who believe the threats are real.

Mr David Chepkoech of Cheptais division said he has already relocated to Eldoret fearing for his life.

Several villagers told The Standard that SLDF is re-emerging under a new name ‘Hit Squad 2009’.

"Two groups have already recruited about 50 members each and are being trained in some neighbouring countries.

"The groups under the leadership of Chemaimak are based at Atar in Uganda and Babati in Tanzania," claimed Chepkoech.

A senior military officer told The Standard: "We have reliable information that Chemaimak was spotted in Kapsokwony division where he held two meetings with some sympathisers."

He added that a mini-military operation may be organised soon.

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