Kamarang’ Hill is a patchwork of trees that form part of the Mt Elgon Forest complex. Sandwiched between two rivers, it towers over Chepyuk, the cradle of a murderous machine called Sabaot Land Defense Force (SLDF).
The rivers, Sasura and Kaptaiywa, were the graveyards of the militia’s handiwork that claimed 700 lives and displaced one in every two residents of Mt Elgon District in just 18 months. Bodies were thrown into the rivers as fast as victims were isolated in the villages.
The army picked Kamarang’ as an ideal location for a temporary base because its foothill caves had gained notoriety as a harbour for the SLDF and because its hilltop had vantage view extending to the larger Bungoma and Trans Nzoia districts and Uganda – areas the SLDF devastated with impunity.
The army base faced Kaberwa Village, just two kilometres away. Villagers felt trapped by the presence of the camp so some fled to join relatives while a good number surrendered to the military – as either suspects or law-abiding citizens.
Kaberwa, known for its quality tomatoes, onions and cabbages, is now mourning two of its great farmers.
One of them was a 55-year-old patriarch who had four wives and 28 children. James Warsama Kirui was a respected farmer who, for reasons only known only to him, decided to hide from the joint operation mounted by the army and police.
Unfortunately, on March 14, 2008 – just two days after the Government decided to flush out the SLDF – he was uncovered by soldiers.
What happened later is a matter of dispute. The family says soldiers beat him senseless. On August 6, 2008, his relatives discovered a body that had the clothes Warsama wore at the time of arrest. The body was just 300 metres away from the Kamarang’ camp the soldiers used until July 30, 2008. Close by was another body bearing the clothes of Simon Chenakam Miti, Warsama’s brother–in-law, and with whom he was arrested.
The bodies were discovered by a herdsman, who has since been arrested, ostensibly for “tipping off human rights activists”, according to Kraido Bajune, a lawyer for the family of Sospeter Chepkwesi Cherop, another suspect who has since disappeared although documents show he was booked at the Kapkota military base.
Cherop was booked at Chesikaki Police Station on April 16, 2008, and booked out to (the military at) Kapkota the following day.
Like Warsama, Cherop was also from Kaberwa Village. His three wives went to court to force the Government to produce his body. But before the court could listen to the case, they discovered a body in Kamarang’ that had clothes similar to those worn by their husband at the time of arrest.
The widows, Lenah Cheboi Makumba, Lilian Temko Ndunya and Eunice Chemkung, immediately applied in court to have the Kapsokwony police chief “proceed to a place called Meza, at Kamarang’ Forest, about 300 metres from the recently closed military camp and investigate and recover the human remains of five persons littered there and forward to Bungoma District Hospital mortuary for examination for purposes of identification and subsequent disposal”.
But the court threw out the suit, saying it lacked jurisdiction over the matter.
From Thursday, a contingent of security personnel has kept combing the Kamarang’ Forest.
“The next thing they will do is to come here and arrest all the young men,” said a woman whose son was arrested in March but whose whereabouts cannot be traced.
Apart from Cherop and Warsama, the village seeks to know the whereabouts of Jackson Komon Chesori and Steven Wilson Chesore (Cherop’s cousins), Simon Chenakam Miti and Jonah Kauka Chesari (Cherop’s brothers-in-law), Benson Koroko Ngeiywo (Cherop’s neighbour), and Moses Khisa, popularly known as DO.
Mr Bajune is convinced that the bodies belong to his clients’ relatives.
The police will open inquests into the killings once relatives file complaints, says Charles Owino Wahong’o, the joint army/police press liaison officer.