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MP demands answers on Mt Elgon operation

NAIROBI, May 8 – Mt Elgon Member of Parliament (MP) Fred Kapondi demanded a ministerial statement from the Internal Security Minister George Saitoti on Thursday on the on-going operation against the Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF) militia.

Kapondi said the Minister should tell Parliament how many people had been killed and arrested in the military operation that has been kept out of the watchful eye of the media for security reasons.

The MP also wanted Saitoti to state if reports on torture suffered by suspects were true.

Speaking during Thursday afternoon’s parliamentary sitting, Kapondi said: “We want to know how many houses and grain stores have been destroyed and how bad the infrastructure is.”

The MP, who has been against the operation since it began two months ago, said the military should move out of Mt Elgon since their actions no longer enjoyed local support.

Local residents initially welcomed attempts to deal with the SLDF but later accused the army of rounding up all adult males in the district and torturing them.

Saitoti was not in the House but his Assistant Minister Orwa Ojode said a response would be given on Wednesday.

The SLDF militia have been waging a war on residents in the area, in a dispute whose root cause lies in irregular land divisions and allocations.

In the past year alone, the militia has been credited with the deaths of close to 500 civilians, who were shot, speared, burnt or hacked with machetes.

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Since the SDLF took up arms in mid-2006 to fight for land it says was illegally taken from the local Soy community, more than 60,000 people have been displaced.

Last month the government denied that the military were using excessive force in the Mt Elgon operation, which had led to the arrests of nearly 2,000 suspects linked to the SLDF at the time.

Government spokesman Dr Alfred Mutua had however said investigations were underway to determine whether allegations by some Human Rights Organisations were true.

Local television recently showed footage of victims who claimed to have been tortured by military officers who are part of the operation, which started in early March 2008.

Those featured displayed gaping wounds that they maintained had been inflicted on them by the officers.

The alleged torture claims were met with widespread condemnation from local and international human rights lobby groups as well as religious organisations.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) Africa Division has released a report, which indicated that some civilians had died while in custody due to severe beatings at the hands of security officers.

HRW also said that 32 prisoners were in a critical condition and it had documented allegations of rape and other forms of torture by the soldiers.

The global rights group called on the army to issue clear orders to its officers in order to protect civilians.

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