Emotions ran high, and women wailed as they recounted their ordeal in the hands of security forces during the infamous Wagalla massacre when the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission visited the scene of the killings on Saturday.
Women, clad in white to indicate that they are widows, wailed uncontrollably as bare-chested men lay on the ground to demonstrate the horrific acts they were subjected to by security forces in an operation that government said it launched to control banditry and ethnic flare-ups.
The residents, who had trekked to the site before the commissioners arrived, broke down as they narrated their ordeal in the hands of security personnel.
Ahead of the hearing day, the TJRC team also visited two mass graves of the Wagalla massacre victims where residents said one contained 35 bodies and the other 23.
Wagalla lies 11 km west of Wajir town and is the site of the February 10, 1984 massacre in which security forces are said to have rounded up thousands of Somalis who were members of the Degodia clan.
Councillor Mohamed Abdullahi of Wagalla Ward, who was the Giriftu chief at the time, told the commission that some of the victims were buried without some of their body parts.
He said 386 bodies were buried, while more than 4,000 others are unaccounted for. He said many bodies were transported in military lorries and dumped near the border with Ethiopia and Somalia.
Unlike at the hearing in Garissa where women who had been raped talked to commissioners behind closed doors, in Wajir the victims of rape narrated their ordeal in public at the Wagalla airstrip.
Abdia Warmoge, a 60-year-old mother of five, broke down as she narrated the ordeal she underwent in the hands of the security forces.
“I was gang-raped by seven military officers, and in my struggle to free myself, I lost my upper teeth. They hit me with a gun butt and left me for the dead,” she said amid sobs.
Ms Warmoge said after the ordeal she could not bear any more children and was left with the five she had. Her agemates, she said, had been blessed with as many as 11 children.
She claimed that six of her relatives were transported in a military lorry to Wagalla, and only one lame victim survived.
Sheikh Nur Ahmed Ali, a survivor of the massacre, said he was picked up from his home together with two of his brothers whom he has never seen again.
He was released after he told the security personnel that he was a teacher of the Koran.
He said they were held in a camp for four days without food, water or protection from the sun; many who tried to escape from the heavily guarded place were shot dead.
The residents told the commission that during the administration of President Daniel arap Moi it was not possible to talk about what had transpired at Wagalla for fear of arrest.
“Senior chief Bishar Ismail was arrested after he was accused of revealing what occurred in Wagalla to a local media outlet,” said Mohamed Abdullahi.
Acting commission chair Tecla Namachanja assured the victims that the commission was mandated to investigate crimes and past human rights violations and identify the perpetrators. She said nothing had been done to expose the perpetrators.
Bethuel Kiplagat, who was permanent secretary in the ministry of Foreign Affairs at the time of the massacre, stepped down as TRJC chair and under investigation by a special tribunal.
The commission hearings begin tomorrow in Wajir town, while statement-taking continues separately.