Friday, November 23, 2012

How I survived raid that killed 42 policemen

Photo| SULEIMAN MBATIAH| Police Reservist Sone Leskono, 27, at Bendera Manyatta in Baragoi, Samburu County

Photo| SULEIMAN MBATIAH| Police Reservist Sone Leskono, 27, at Bendera Manyatta in Baragoi, Samburu County, on November 22, 2012, narrates what happened in the attack in which more than 40 policemen were killed two weeks ago.  NATION MEDIA GROUP

By MUCHEMI WACHIRA [email protected]

Details of how 40 police officers and reservists were killed in Baragoi came to light on Thursday with one of the volunteers who led them in the valley of death revealing how they were ambushed on that day.

Mr Sone Leskono is a member of the Kenya Police Reserve, popularly known as homeguards, who help with security in areas prone to cattle-rustling.

Although he has never attended any police training, he is convinced that Baragoi disaster was the result of betrayal, lax intelligence and police officers unfamiliar with the terrain. (Editorial: Baragoi tragedy should provide a turning point)

The 27-year-old man was in the group of reservists accompanying a police detachment out to recover 450 cattle stolen from Samburu herders by rustlers from the neighbouring Turkana.

“It was like going direct into a trap laid for you by the enemy,” recalls Mr Leskono, who says he escaped death by the grace of God.

First he blames the police for leading them into battle without having any knowledge of the terrain. He also wonders why they relied on intelligence from a Turkana informer.

“When we left Baragoi Police Station, we were told that we would be going to tackle a group of 40 armed men, and since we were a total of 167 (107 policemen and 60 reservists) and we were fully armed, there was nothing to worry about,” he says.

They left the police station as early as 3am and the commander of the brigade, Mr Mark Kemboi, had instructed them not to kill women and children.

Officer in charge

Mr Kemboi was the officer in charge of Nachola GSU camp, located just 10 kilometres from where the attack took place.

Despite having worked in the area, Mr Kemboi appeared not to be conversant with the landscape as Mr Leskono observes:

“We had left so early but we only came face-to-face with the rustlers at 9am as no one knew the exact route to follow. The police appeared to have no knowledge at all of the area,” he adds.

Mr Leskono said they had to leave their vehicles behind and walk in the area with steep hills. There are also numerous dry river beds and caves that complicate the terrain.

They walked for more than five kilometres and by the time they sighted the manyatta(hut) downhill where the Turkana raiders had retreated, most of the police party was exhausted.

They had expected to find about 40 rustlers, as told by the informer, but “we could see 400 militia who were well armed and the animals they had stolen from us were grazing.

"But there were no women or children or even the old men. The manyatta was at the bottom of the valley but behind, there was another hill, which they all imagined our enemies would hide in and shoot at us.”

It was at this point that the security forces started to panic. “Most of them were young and they were terrified, like officers who have never been onto a battle field,” Mr Leskono says.

But they had one hope. Rustlers in the violent-prone region don’t usually attack police or other government officers. They only kill members of a rival community.

“This is what comforted us but before we even reached at the manyatta, our enemies retreated into the hill behind and from here, I knew the worst would happen.”

He recounts their commander, Mr Kemboi, leading them into the trap. “He led us to the manyatta and in a few minutes, our enemies started shooting.

"The first people to die were a reservist and police officer, and then Mr Kemboi. When that happened, we all lost hope and started scattering in different directions.”

It was such a humiliating defeat, recounted the police reservist who spoke to Nation from his Bendera home near Baragoi Town. He still cannot explain how he escaped. (READ: Shame of police deaths)

“It was not my day to die and I don’t know how all the bullets failed to hit me,” he says. He was in a group that fled, with the rustlers in hot pursuit.

“I was with a police officer who was eventually shot dead but I managed to outwit the bandits and hid in a trench. Here, I found two other reservists and 10 police officers and again the bandits still followed us for another three kilometres.

“It is only three of us who survived by enduring the burning heat of Suguta Valley until we reached Maralal-Baragoi Road in Marti area still with our guns,” he says.

At the roadside, the three reservists who survived got a lift from a motorist after waiting for almost 10 hours, and reached their homes the following day.

He said most of the police officers died because they did not have the stamina to flee. “They were exhausted by the time we reached the manyatta if the enemy and they could not escape.”

At Nachola Village, most residents regretted the death of Kemboi whom they described as polite and social. “He was not like other police officers who like harassing people. Every time, he spent time with us chatting and he hardly collided with people,” a resident said.

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