Hours after Cabinet Secretary for Interior Kithure Kindiki had wound up his tour of the North Rift region with a warning to bandits that they have no place to hide in Kenya, three police officers were shot dead by armed gunmen believed to be armed bandits in Turkana County.
During the 8am incident, the criminals are said to have stripped naked the police officers and took off with their uniforms, guns and ammunition.
Another General Service Unit (GSU) officer is still missing after the bandits ambushed a police convoy along the Lodwar–Kitale highway.
Turkana County Police Commander Samuel Ndanyi said the officers killed were heading to the scene where gunmen - also believed to be bandits, had attacked a vehicle ferrying passengers to Turkana, shot and injured two people, and took off with livestock from a neighbouring village on Friday.
Ndanyi said Turkana South police commander is among the officers injured during a fire exchange between officers and suspected bandits from the neighbouring West Pokot county.
“During the operation, we managed to recover one mobile phone, 31 rounds of ammunition, money, solar panel, footwear (Akalas) and a live tortoise that was tied to a tree where they kept their things,” Ndanyi said.
The team of police officers who came face to face with the bandits along the highway comprised officers from GSU, the Administration Police, Rapid Deployment Unit and officers from the local police station.
This was after their convoy was overpowered by the gunmen, and they had to return to their camp where they are now planning to deal with the gunmen.
This latest incident comes hours after Interior CS held a meeting with senior security commanders from Turkana and Baringo counties during his latest tour of the volatile region in an effort to find a lasting solution to perennial banditry attacks in parts of the region.
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Kindiki, who beginning last Tuesday met a team of senior security chiefs from the Rift valley region to plan how to deal with the menace that has reigned havoc causing untold suffering among the residents of the region.
The closed-door meetings, which were held at a hotel in Baringo centred on State intervention and also mapped out areas of operation by the police.
So fragile was the security situation that a planned visit by the CS accompanied by journalists to some of the troubled areas in the region had to be cancelled Thursday over security concerns.
This has left pundits wondering if Kindiki will succeed in taming banditry in the region where his predecessors have failed.
So bad is the situation that even as the security chiefs were holed up in a meeting, the bandits were reigning terror only 60 kilometres from where the security bosses were planning how to stop the gun-toting bandits once and for all.
Crash the bandits
The CS, and even President William Ruto have repeatedly warned that the State would crash the bandits who have now become a pain to the residents and by extension the government.
And even as the CS last week held meetings with both National Police Service Commanders as well as officers from the Provincial administration from the affected areas in an effort to find a solution to the problem, some of the residents from the affected areas are sceptical that the Ruto led administration will end the insecurity menace.
Handlers of the CS maintain that it is during Kindiki’s tenure as security boss that the banditry problem will be wiped out.
A section of the political leaders from the troubled region are however blaming the government for laxity. They have pointed an accusing finger at politicians for fueling the banditry attacks.
Turkana Senator James Lomenen yesterday called on the government to arrest some leaders whom he said were fueling banditry attacks in Turkana South.
“We want to bring to the attention of the Ministry of Interior and National Administration that meetings held in the Amolem and Kotamurokon areas of Lobokat and Kaputir Wards by some leaders. It must have fueled the ongoing conflicts in the region,” Lomenen said.
Turkana East MP Nicholas Ngikor warned of continued bloodshed and called on the government to intervene to avert further killings.
“We want to tell the national government to move with speed to address the current wave of insecurity in Turkana South and East sub-county. We cannot continue losing innocent people daily yet the government has the machinery to deal with banditry in the region,” Mr Ngikor said.
He said the bandits regrouped and ambushed the security officers in a vehicle on patrol. These latest attacks come only two weeks after Kindiki launched a re-arming exercise of the National Police Reservists and promised to boost police numbers in the region.
“Had a fruitful tour of Lokichogio and Nadapal to access the security situation and the general development of the area, with the Turkana Security and Intelligence Committee and elected leaders led by Turkana Governor Jeremiah Lomurkai,” Kindiki wrote on his official Twitter account.
On separate occasions, he has also held meetings with leaders from Elgeyo Marakwet, Baringo, and Samburu and made visits to various parts of the region where he held barazas.
In November last year while distributing relief food in Turkana, President William Ruto warned perpetrators of banditry that the government was determined to bring the matter to an end.
“I know those who run the cattle rustling schemes are watching me now. I am warning you against trying my temper. Mtajua hamjui (You will face my full wrath),” he said.
He added, “We are tired of our people dying and students dropping from school. Don’t play around with our temper. We will bring an end to cattle rustling with whatever it takes.”
The president said his administration will not hesitate to use the military to bring to an end the perennial problem.
Yesterday, a section of leaders from Turkana called on the government to act with speed to bring the insecurity problem to an end.
Mr Ng’ikor accused some leaders that he did not name from the neighbouring community of encroaching on their land saying that already dozens of communities have been displaced from their ancestral land following the recent spate of insecurity in Turkana South.
The legislator warned that the situation is likely to worsen since the other communities could retaliate. In Kerio Valley, retaliatory attacks between two communities have also resurfaced and past peace efforts are being eroded.
The security situation deteriorated despite a move by CS Kindiki to deploy more than 300 police reservists to boost police officers in the area to stem persistent attacks.
Elgeyo Marakwet Governor Wisley Rotich said in a statement to The Sunday Standard that bandits roaming in the Kerio Valley have defied all measures put in place by the government to arrest the menace and continue to kill, maim and steal from locals.
“We have tried all these strategies that include: dialogue, signing of a peace accord, leaders’ meeting, security meetings, issued ultimatums, peace meetings, peace committees, sports, joint agriculture at Tot-Koloa, joint grazing, evangelism by religious groups, deployment of police reservists, deployment of a drone (training ongoing), having police presence (16 stations) and even bringing the entire security docket leadership to the Kerio Valley,”
West Pokot Governor Simon Kachapin asked the government to deploy police reservists in equal numbers across the affected counties. “Conduct a clear and comprehensive disarmament exercise involving both communities. Deploy more police officers to ensure peace and stability prevail in the area,” the leaders said in a joint statement.
Marakwet West MP Timothy Toroitich asked President William Ruto to declare areas along the borders of West Pokot, Elgeyo Marakwet and Baringo war zones, and order the deployment of special forces to rein in bandits. “We ask that the conflict zones along the Kerio Valley strip, and across River Kerio be declared a war zone by the government and treated as pertains to such a zone,” the MP said.
[Reporting by Lucas Ngasike, Patrick Kibet and Kamore Maina]