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Truth Commission visits Wagalla massacre scene

NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 16 – The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) on Saturday morning met with the victims of the Wagalla massacre who recounted how they had been tortured during that time.

The men demonstrated how they had been tormented when they were told to lie on the ground without their shirts under the scorching sun while the women wept at the anguish they experienced.

During the event, TJRC acting chairperson Tecla Namachanja assured Kenyans that the commission would ensure the truth about what happened would be unearthed and appealed to the victims to be patient.

“The commission would want to find out the context in which the massacre took place and unearth why other subsequent similar events took place after the Wagalla incident,” she said.

She encouraged those affected by the incident to come out and tell their story in a bid to lessen the pain it caused.

“The process is going to be painful but we are going to scratch the wounds so that they can heal once and for all,” she stated. “Where were all the Kenyans when the atrocities took place?”

The commissioners later viewed the area which is believed to be the place where about 300 bodies of victims were burnt.

The exact number of people killed in the massacre is unknown and estimates range from 57 the official government toll to more than five thousand.

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The unsettling story of the Wagalla Massacre reads like a chapter from the 2008 post-election violence.

It all started on February 10, 1984, when members of Degodia, a Somali clan, were gathered by security forces and taken to an airstrip in Wajir.

The operation, which involved regular and administration police as well as the army aimed to disarm the Degodia and force them to identify the bandits committing crimes in the district and covered all areas of the district, including Tarbaj, Leheley, Wajir-Bor and Khorof Harar.

First, the army surrounded Bulla Jogoo and ordered the residents to leave their homes. During the swoop, women were raped, houses burnt and property looted. According to Justus ole Tipis, then a Minister in the Office of the President, the residents refused to obey the orders.

The military then forcibly removed men from their houses and took them to the airstrip, 14km West of Wajir Town.

Government accounts say those held were interrogated for three days, and a scuffle erupted when the district commissioner, accompanied by the local police division commandant, entered the airstrip.

Some of the crowd fled, while others shouted at government officers. In this confusion and stampede, 29 people died of gunshots or were trampled upon, while 28 others were killed when the army met with resistance.

But unofficial sources said the men were stripped naked and their movements restricted to a few narrow steps either forwards or backwards.

After many hours without food or water, the sun still beating down mercilessly, they were told to lie down on their chests on the hot tarmac. Those who disobeyed were shot, while others died of heat exhaustion, others reportedly survived on urine as drinking water.

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