Prime Minister Raila Odinga and five Cabinet ministers were barred from accessing a Kenyan village occupied forcibly by Ethiopian tribesmen for fear of being attacked.
The PM’s delegation was in Turkana County on Wednesday to assess the security situation after 20 people were killed in a raid by Merille warriors, but security officers advised them against venturing into the sprawling Emorupus village.
Rift Valley Provincial Commissioner Osman Warfa, Turkana North DC Jack Obuo and a Catholic priest in the area, Fr Stephen Ochieng, warned the entourage that the Ethiopians were heavily armed and would not hesitate to attack them.
As a result, the team that also included a permanent secretary and top security officers from Nairobi, stopped kilometres away from the clash-hit area.
The security risks in the area were made more apparent by the heavily armed GSU officers escorting the team.
“Those villages are in Kenya but we can’t access them,” Mr Warfa said, prompting Mr Odinga to ask: “Where is our national army?”
This emerged as an MP warned in Parliament that the death toll from the attack could rise to 69 amid claims the Ethiopians were stopping Kenyans from accessing their homes on the shores of Lake Turkana.
Mr Obuo said though the Ethiopian government had not staked ownership on the villages, it was doing little to stop its citizens from attacking and killing Kenyans.
The villages lie five kilometres from Omo River, where the Ethiopian government is constructing a major dam that environmentalists warn could sound the death knell for Lake Turkana.
Mr Obuo said the Merille had removed beacons on the Kenya-Ethiopia border and were trying to shift the boundary.
This emerged as President Kibaki and Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi agreed to a joint ministerial committee to resolve the row between the Turkana and Merille.
The leaders also discussed fast-tracking infrastructure projects — road and railway networks — between the two countries.
They called for peaceful co-existence among communities living on the borders. The two leaders were in Uganda to attend the swearing-in of President Yoweri Museveni in Kampala,
Mr Odinga was accompanied by Cabinet ministers Mohamed Elmi, John Munyes, Otieno Kajwang’ and Charity Ngilu, Assistant minister Josephat Nanok, Special Programmes permanent secretary Andrew Mondoh and deputy police commissioner Francis Okonya.
The PM said more security officers would be deployed to the area and an immigration centre set up to vet foreigners entering the country.
“I have come to let you know you are Kenyans. The government will protect you,” Mr Odinga told residents when he landed at Todonyang airstrip.
The PM said the government would improve infrastructure in the region and introduce irrigation and fish farming to cushion residents from the harsh environment.
Mr Warfa said a district officer had been posted to Todonyang, and a GSU camp set up.
The area has only eight regular police officers, 12 AP officers, 60 GSU officers and 20 Kenya Police Reservists.
The chairman of the Turkana Professionals Association, Dr Ekuru Aukot and Mr Nanok said officers from the local community should be posted to the area as many from other regions declined the posting “because they don’t want to be killed.”