It is exactly five months since authorities launched a military onslaught on members and sympathisers of the Sabaot Land Defence Force in Mt Elgon.
Schools and trading centres that suffered the wrath of the SLDF militia have since re-opened.
The fields are lush green, indicating that farming activities have resumed, even in areas where the militia killed innocent people and taxed them. Nearly two-thirds of the people have planted.
However, political leaders Wilberforce Kisiero, a former assistant minister, and sitting MP Fred Kapondi say the operation has left a trail of death and torture in its wake. Human rights groups like the Independent Medio-Legal Unit and the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights have documented cases of human rights violations. Lawyers Kraido Bajune, John Makali and Omundi Bw’Onchiri, who have been acting for those charged over the SLDF activities, are asking for a tribunal into killings and torture by security agents.
The military cordoned off areas of operation, making it difficult to ascertain the death toll. In the first month, the military air-bombed caves and canyons, the suspected hideouts of the militia. Later, it started combing forests and visiting homes in Mt Elgon and Trans-Nzoia.
Residents next to Kapkota and Kaptama military bases, where suspects are screened, say they always hear disturbing screams in the evenings as suspects are brought in for interrogation.
“The screams that come from that place are eerie,” says a resident neighbouring Kapkota. “People must be suffering inside there,” he says, pointing at a camp at Toroso. Security forces have arrested almost all SLDF commanders, and recovered 103 guns, according to Western provincial commissioner Abdul Mwassera. Wycliffe Komon Matakwei, the SLDF deputy leader, was killed in the operation two months ago.
The SLDF killed about 700 peasants in just 18 months of insurgency that began in August 2006 after a botched land distribution exercise deep in Mt Elgon, at a place called Chebyuk. The resettlement had benefited outsiders, among them civil servants, rather than the landless in Mt Elgon, the residents argued.