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Angry villagers torch posh houses

Saturday February 7 2009

Journalists at  Timboni village where houses said to belong to drug lords were razed. Photo/DANIEL NYASSY

Journalists at Timboni village where houses said to belong to drug lords were razed. Photo/DANIEL NYASSY 

By DANIEL NYASSY

Residents of Watamu location on Friday invaded Timboni village and set ablaze four posh houses worth millions of shillings, claiming they were owned by drug barons.

The more than 1,500 angry residents gathered at a local mosque for afternoon prayers before descending on the four houses.

Their spokesman, nominated councillor Ibrahim Abdi Athman, vowed that the residents would burn more buildings they believed were built with proceeds from the sale of drugs and lynch the owners.

He claimed residents were frustrated by an unjust system in which corruption had led to the drug lords buying their freedom from police cells and local courts whenever they are arrested.

“After watching for many decades, we decided enough is enough. These four houses we have burnt today mark the beginning of our unstoppable war to rid this area of drugs,” said the councillor.

Local MP Gideon Mung’aro, who visited the scene later, praised the residents for the action saying it was the only way to rid the area of drugs.

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“We gave a warning last year that if the drug dealers do not stop their illegal trade we would burn down all their property including houses,” said the MP.

The Friday invasion was well-coordinated, with busloads of youth having been ferried from Ngomeni village, 55 kilometres north of Malindi, Kilifi Town, 55 kilometres south, Mambrui village and Malindi.

“We sent transport to ferry the people here for our mission which was very successful,” said Mr Ibrahim.

One of the suspects escaped death narrowly when he was caught in his house. He however managed to flee in a car when the raiders arrived.

“The trend today is that drug sellers are targeting younger people. As we talk now, about 225 children between 11 and 13 years are being recruited into drug use,” said Ibrahim.

He said about 700 people in Watamu village alone are hooked on drugs. 32 others are said to be in various hospitals in Mombasa suffering from drug-related illnesses.

“Thirty two youths have died in Watamu from abusing drugs in the past and more could die anytime,” he added.

As the houses burnt, armed police officers led by the Malindi OCPD Mr Peter Kattam watched from a distance but did not arrest anybody.

Addressing the crowd after the fire was extinguished by council fire men, Mr Kattam urged the residents to remain calm as the government handles the problem.

“We shall carry out full investigations into the issue of drugs and act,” he said.

The police in Malindi have been accused of failing to arrest drug pedlers. Residents claim that police officers receive a protection fee from the drug lords who end up being set free whenever they are arrested.

Councillor Ibrahim said residents were fed up with the police because the chief dealers are issued with bonds in courts and let free while “the small consumers” are denied bond and given severe jail sentences.

In the last three months, police have carried out joint operations with a local Muslim organization, Malindi Against Drug Abuse to arrest suspects in Malindi, Watamu and Mambrui.

More than 70 suspects have been arrested with several sachets of heroine, bhang, brown sugar, mandrax and other drugs.

More than 15 suspects have voluntarily surrendered to police and taken oaths never to sell drugs again. However, the move is seen to be targeting only the small dealers while the barons continue with the business.

“The problem is that whenever we raid their premises, we don’t get them with drugs to serve as evidence before court. We are therefore left helpless,” said Mr Kattam.

The drug dealers are said to be operating a massive clandestine network involving Nigerians, Tanzanians, local Asian tycoons from Malindi, Mombasa and Nairobi and suppliers from European countries.

Two months ago, the National Campaign Against Drug Abuse Authority (Nacadaa) visited Malindi and met 200 drug addicts who rejected a sumptuous lunch, instead demanding for cash to buy drugs.