Bandits ambush village in Laikipia and burn classes as police operation starts


Classrooms at Mirigwit Primary School go up in flames after bandits set them ablaze. [James Munyeki, Standard].

Armed bandits who have terrorised residents of Laikipia West Constituency for over a month yesterday launched a daring daylight attack at Mirigwit village moments after security personnel began an operation.

The gang struck exactly an hour after the Rift Valley Regional Commissioner George Natembeya launched the operation at Ol Moran trading centre.

Journalists who were interacting with residents at Mirigwit village – two kilometres from the trading centre - came under heavy gunfire from the bandits who were hiding in thickets.

The attackers stormed Mirigwit Primary School, which had been closed earlier, and set ablaze at least three classrooms before a contingent of police officers arrived.

As the residents took cover in nearby bushes, the police officers exchanged fire with the bandits who were shooting from within the thick vegetation around the school for at least an hour before they retreated.

At around 3.20pm, two military aircraft carrying senior security officials landed at the school where the government officers assessed the damage. No civilian was allowed in.

Despite the launch of the operation, fear has gripped the residents who are fleeing their homes to safer grounds as the criminals continue to burn some houses.

“We have deployed adequate personnel and equipment to ensure areas where people have been displaced are secured so that they don’t turn into operating zones for bandits,” said Natembeya.

He said the operation will not be brutal, as they give the bandits the last chance to leave the villages and conservancies, which they have invaded with their thousands of livestock.

“We are engaging them in soft power to ensure they leave without casualties. To them they think the government is weak. We shall, however, use all means available to flush them out.”

While assuring those camping at different trading centres of their security, he said a section of the officers shall be combing the conservancies to rid them of the bandits.

“We want to clean up Laikipia Nature Conservancy where the bandits are retreating after committing their atrocities against the people in the villages. It will be total clean-up and taking charge of the conservancy,” he said.

The Ministry of Interior on Monday declared the conservancy a disturbed area and pronounced a 6pm to 6am curfew on it and its surrounding areas as livestock owners were given two days to remove them.

“I urge the residents to abide with the curfew and allow security officers to do their patrols. We don’t want innocent people to be caught up in fire exchange between officers and the bandits,” said Natembeya.

He said the attacks in Laikipia were a spill-over of an ongoing security operation in the neighbouring Baringo County. 

“Laikipia has been having relative peace until three weeks ago when we had a major security operation in Kapedo. The heat became too much for the bandits who fled Baringo and are now reigning terror in Laikipia,” said Natembeya. He said the bandits have been taking cover in the conservancies from where they plan their attacks on surrounding communities, with at least 13 people killed and scores injured in the past one month. 

“The attacks extended to Ol Moran Division in Laikipia West. The problem has been compounded by more herders coming from Isiolo and Samburu counties, all of whom are armed,” said Natembeya. 

The administrator pointed out that currently, there are enough resources for livestock in their home counties, but the attackers are hiding behind search for pasture to evict the local communities.

“The disturbed area falls under conservancies and other land privately owned by individuals. We now have attackers claiming that the land belonged to their ancestors,” he said. 

“That is a very stupid way of thinking because the current inhabitants have genuine title deeds. The only thing they lack is firearms. As a government we shall protect the private property and lives of the people in that area.”

He blamed senior government officers of fanning violence in the area to protect their selfish interests at the expense of innocent lives.

“Some people in the country’s security sector, the military and the police from the warring communities have their livestock in the conservancies,” he said.

Laikipia Governor Ndiritu Muriithi said earlier operations failed to achieve the intended results. 

“We expect that we shall have a more robust security operation starting today. It is unthinkable that bandits in groups of 10 can overrun police and GSU camps,” said Ndiritu.