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Hundreds homeless as KFS removes illegal settlers from Mt Elgon Forest

Thursday July 16 2020
mt-elgon

Houses go up in smoke in Mt Elgon Forest in the ongoing eviction of illegal settlers by KFS. PHOTO | BRIAN OJAMAA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By BRIAN OJAMAA

About 1,000 people have been left homeless after Kenya Forest Service (KFS) officers torched over 400 houses illegally built in Mt Elgon Forest.

The service is conducting an operation to kick out people who have settled there and are illegally cultivating the forest.

The operation is aimed at conserving the water catchment forest that has been threatened by human encroachment.

Bungoma County Ecosystem Conservator Vitalis Osodo said that the eviction which kicked off three weeks ago will ensure that the forest is conserved and that nobody is allowed in to destroy it.

"We have since realised majority 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.

ARRESTED

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During the ongoing eviction in Chebwek and Chebombai in Chepyuk settlement scheme, four people were arrested and are being held at Cheptais Police Station.

"During our operation patrols in Mt Elgon on Cheptais side, we managed to arrest four people. They are being held in safe custody," said Mr Osodo.

Two suspects were accused of cutting down indigenous trees in the forest to burn charcoal.

Another one was arrested with bamboo reeds while a woman was arrested for illegal cultivation in the State forest.

"We torched 40 houses and we established that majority have moved out and the response is good. We also established that some of the illegal settlers were from Uganda," he said.

DONKEYS SEIZED

During the operation, the KFS officers seized six donkeys which were being used to carry firewood from the forest.

A local politician, Amos Chemabus, urged the government to give the squatters time to vacate the forest.

Speaking to the Nation, Mr Chemabus said the forest recovery efforts are welcome but should be conducted in a humane manner.

COVID-19 PANDEMIC

He added that the current situation could have necessitated a further grace period for the occupants to vacate the forest.

"The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic is a challenge worldwide, thus rendering people homeless currently is a distress," he said.

He said that farmers have invested in the farming activities in Chebwek and Chebombai within Cheptais Ward and they are yet to harvest their crops.

“It’s our prayer that the government be humane in the entire process,” he said.

The politician said that the evictees will suffer a lot during the rainy season.

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