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30 arrested as encroachers destroy 7,000 acres of Mt Elgon Forest

Monday July 27 2020
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A view of Mt Elgon Forest in Bungoma County. KFS officers have arrested over 30 people who had illegally invaded and destroyed part of the forest. PHOTO | BRIAN OJAMAA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By BRIAN OJAMAA

Kenya Forest Service (KFS) officers have arrested over 30 people who had illegally invaded and destroyed the forest cover in Mt Elgon.

The 30 included Ugandan nationals who were found destroying the Mt Elgon water tower.

Confirming the arrests, Western Region KFS Commandant Harrison Afwata said that the government has flushed out all the illegal encroachers and destroyed their houses in an operation aimed at restoring the forest which he said is being destroyed at a high rate.

“The multi-agency security team has flushed out over 1,000 people and destroyed over 400 houses illegally constructed in Mt Elgon Forest,” said Mr Afwata.

“The security team on July 19 drove out all those people who had illegally invaded the forest land and started cultivating it. They had led to degradation of the forest cover. As enforcement officers we can’t allow it,” he added.

NO RETURNING TO FOREST

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He pointed out that nobody will be allowed back into the forest.

“After flushing them out, we are now ensuring that there is no returning back, no cultivation takes place and all illegally constructed structures are completely brought down,” said the KFS official.

Areas which have been mostly affected by the destruction include Chebombai and Chesekwo in Cheptais Sub-County, he said.

“So far we have cleared 80 per cent of the encroached forest cover. I thank these people for heeding to our call and voluntarily leaving the forest,” stated Mr Afwata.

He noted that among the illegal encroachers were Ugandans, two of whom were arrested on July 26.

Mr Afwata said that the eviction which kicked off three weeks ago will ensure that the forest is conserved and nobody is allowed in to cause destruction.

“We have since realised majority of people in Mt Elgon have illegally taken over the forest and have destroyed the ecosystem. The eviction exercise will see all those people driven out and nobody will be spared,” he said.

Two weeks ago, KFS officials arrested four suspects in Chebwek for logging and burning charcoal in the forest.

Following the arrests, Chepyuk Ward MCA Franklin Simotwo asked the State to help residents know how to use the forest without destroying it.

"We want our people, through the national and county governments, to be sensitised on how they can get herbal medicine from the forest, keep bee hive sfor honey, graze their animals and also get firewood from old, fallen trees without being harassed," he said.

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