Security men accused of torture and rape

Fatma Abdi is still terrified by what happened on the night of October 27. That day, she says, four well-built officers stormed her home as her family slept and raped her in turns.

Saturday November 1 2008

Some of the over 200 injured Mandera residents

Some of the over 200 injured Mandera residents recuperating outside the Elwak District Hospital. Photos/FILE 

By KIBIWOTT KOROS

Fatma Abdi is still terrified by what happened on the night of October 27.

That day, she says, four well-built officers stormed her home as her family slept and raped her in turns.

The mother of three, who lives in Wargadud location in Mandera East district, says, “at first, I didn’t know what was happening, but in about 20 minutes, the officers destroyed my life.”

Mrs Abdi is one of nine women who claim they were raped by security officers carrying out an operation to restore peace in Mandera.

Retaliatory attacks

The joint police and army operation started last Sunday and is also intended to curb the influx of illegal firearms from Somalia and Ethiopia.

Insecurity in the region has heightened in the last three weeks and was precipitated by a feud between the Murulle and Garre clans after one of the clans raided the other’s village, resulting in retaliatory attacks.

The inter-clan violence has so far claimed the lives of 24 people, including two administration police and an army officer, and led to the displacement of hundreds of families.

A source in the security forces said they feared the clans have enlisted Ethiopian and Somali militia in the feud and the deployment of the military is an attempt to nip in the bud what would otherwise become a serious conflict.

But residents of Mandera, local leaders and human rights organisations are accusing the security forces of using excessive force.

This echoes the sentiments of residents of Mt Elgon earlier this year during a similar military operation to flush out members of the militia group referred to as the Sabaot Land Defence Force.

When the Sunday Nation visited the Mandera area, we found that 112 people had recently been admitted to the Elwak District Hospital and another 100 at the Wargadud health centre.

Doctors said the patients had fractures and cuts and were suffering from internal bleeding.

Some of the patients who spoke to the Sunday Nation said that officers from the joint security force started torturing them after they failed to produce illegal guns the officers said they were hiding.

“They met me as I was heading to school,” said the headmaster of Elwak Primary School, Edwin Hassan. “They asked me where I was going before ordering me to kneel down.”

Mr Hassan is nursing a deep cut on his left hand. He said he was hit by a security officer after he declined to hand over what he had in his pockets – Sh20,000 and his mobile phone.

“One man hit me on the head with a metal bar. When I fell, he searched through my pockets and tried to take my money and phone.”

When he resisted, he says, he was hit with a sharp object. “I don’t remember what transpired after that. I found myself in hospital with my hands bandaged. I have lost three fingers.”

Mr Ali Noor, a teacher at Elwak Primary School, said he was dragged out of class and beaten as his pupils watched.

"I had gone to school at 5 a.m. for morning prep with the Standard Eight class,” he said. “After a short while, three soldiers walked in and asked me to stop teaching.”

Dragged out

The officers then demanded that he shows them where his gun was. “They whipped me in front of the pupils before frog-marching me to Elwak airstrip where I was put together with others and beaten.”

Mr Abdul Haji, the district staffing officer, was dragged out of his office while attending to teachers seeking transfers on Monday.

“I told them I was a civil servant but was answered with blows and kicks. One officer told me to call (Education minister Sam) Ongeri and tell him that I had been arrested.”

Several other patients the Sunday Nation spoke to at the region’s health centres said they were rounded up, taken to an open area where they were stripped, then beaten.

Four elderly men who were at the Elwak centre said they were beaten after they failed to tell the security officers where their sons were. Their sons were being accused of hiding guns.

Mr Hassan Omar Hassan of the Kenya National Human Rights Commission, said, “This is a total failure by the country’s security forces. It is painful that the people who are mandated to protect the residents are now turning them into their prey.”

He said the security officers should be held accountable for the torture allegations, saying one person had so far been killed and nine women raped.

But the North Eastern provincial police officer Stephen Chelimo and the Mandera Central district officer Ole Tutui dismissed the torture allegations.

“Our operation has been humane. The injuries they claim to have sustained are self-inflicted,” said Mr Tutui.

Police Spokesman Eric Kiraithe said on Wednesday that the operation was successful and would continue until law and order were restored at the border town.

“The purpose of the operation is to recover all illegal firearms and prosecute suspects of murder and other criminal acts,” he told reporters at a press conference.

Mr Kiraithe said security officers had also sealed off border points to bar suspects from crossing over to Ethiopia or Somalia.

“It is a massive operation and I can assure you none of them (suspects) will run away. We have many officers stationed at the exit points,” he said.

Innocent people

However, Mr Hassan Mohammed, a local leader, accused the police of victimising innocent people.

“We support the operation but the techniques they are using are not humane. They are torturing people and forcing them to show them where guns are kept.

"We are just appealing to the police to stop harassing people because innocent men, women and children are suffering,” he said.

The National Muslim Leaders’ Forum has also called on the government to withdraw the soldiers, proposing that the state allow religious leaders to initiate peace talks between the Murulle and Garre.

Security agents say they have so far recovered 47 rifles and more than 900 rounds of ammunition, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, a hand grenade, a satellite telephone and three radios.

According to Sheikh Ahmed Takoy, a member of the arbitration committee between the Garre and Murulle clans, Mandera will have no peace unless the recommendations of a 2005 peace pact are upheld.

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