NAIROBI, May 16 – Two top commanders of the outlawed Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF) were killed Friday in the ongoing Mount Elgon security operation.
Witnesses said that SLDF leader Wycliffe Matakwei, Spokesman John Kanai and close family members were among 10 people ensnared by the combined Military and Police operation near the Kenya-Uganda border.
They were said to be planning to cross over to Uganda to evade the operation launched in March this year to flush out the outlawed militia.
Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe confirmed that three bodies of suspected SDLF members were collected after an exchange of fire between security officers and the suspects near Cheptais trading centre.
“We have reasons to believe that one of the bodies is that of Matakwei who has been one of the leaders,” he said.
Kiraithe told Capital News that Matakwei was in a group of an armed gang that engaged the officers in a cross fire.
“We also recovered several firearms including four assault rifles and several rounds of ammunition in the exchange,” said Kiraithe.
“No fatalities were recorded on the side of the security officers.”
The militia group has been accused of killing more than 600 people in the area in the last two years.
Kiraithe maintained that the operation would continue despite opposition from politicians and the civil society.
Kiraithe said: “The primary aim of the operation was restoration of law and order in Mt. Elgon, recovery of all illegally held weapons and to ensure that the communities living there go on their business without fear.”
The state-funded Kenya National Commission for Human Rights (KNCHR) on Thursday called for the prosecution of Defence Minister and eight top security officials over alleged torture of the local people during the crackdown.
KNHCR released a damning report implicating the security forces of torturing the locals and killing of more than 600 people.
However, Government Spokesman Dr Alfred Mutua dismissed the allegations and instead blamed the militia for a wide range of atrocities which he described as "crimes against humanity".
Mutua accused the militia of raiding villages and forcibly conscripting child soldiers.
Police reports earlier last month indicated that another two SLDF commanders Raphael Bera alias Chui and David Sichei together with some of their recruits were killed by the police.
President Mwai Kibaki has in the past reiterated that the crackdown will continue until all criminal elements are brought to book.
The operation has recently drawn criticism from local and international human rights groups over allegations of killings, torture and rape of civilians by the military and rebels.
A report by police in April revealed that 1,735 SLDF suspects had been arrested and 1,324 released after interrogation. 374 people had been charged in court with criminal offences.
The report also indicated that 41 AK-47 assault rifles and 1,027 rounds of ammunition, hand grenades and other materials had been recovered by then.