Leaders from the Rift Valley on Thursday termed the Maasai Mau evictions a humanitarian crisis even as plans for the planting of 10 million trees were ongoing.
Governors, senators and MPs appealed to President Uhuru Kenyatta “to end suffering”.
Governors Jackson Mandago (Uasin Gishu), Paul Chepkwony (Kericho), Stanley Kiptis (Baringo), Senators Aaron Cheruiyot (Kericho), Kipchumba Murkomen (Elgeyo-Marakwet), Christopher Langat (Bomet) and scores of MPs issued the statement at a meeting in Nairobi.
They called on the UNHCR, Kenya Red Cross and other humanitarian organisations to look for resources and provide temporary shelter for victims of “the illegal government activity”.
“A humanitarian crisis of monumental proportions is escalating in Narok South. Innocent citizens are being targeted and subjected to abuse, torture, dispossession, humiliation and other atrocious crimes by security officers of the Kenyan Government,” they said in a statement read by Prof Chepkwony.
The governor said Mr Kenyatta promised Rift Valley leaders that there would be no evictions in Narok South until consultations are held to determine if residents remain on their farms or are compensated.
“The events of the past two months are baffling as government officials order evictions and make statements of no compensation,” the statement added.
The leaders said tens of thousands of locals have been evicted from their homes, some 14 schools shut down and markets and property destroyed.
The government says the numbers affected are much lower.
“We have sought the intervention of or a meeting with the President, his deputy and the Environment Cabinet Secretary, but our efforts have been in vain,” they said.
“We are shocked by the cavalier, clandestine, guerrilla-like operation against innocent and unarmed citizens … by a legitimate democratic government. This is unacceptable, heinous and criminal.”
Prof Chepkwony said locals have been reduced to destitution and refugees. He added that the leaders would document all abuses with a view to pursuing accountability through the available legal means locally and globally.
The 46,278-hectare Maasai Mau is a trust land, which was encroached on by the extension of five group ranches. It is part of the 400,000ha Mau complex that is the source of 12 rivers.
While the government insists it is a forestland and a water tower, some politicians say the settlers bought the farms and must be compensated if they are to be moved.
Government teams pitched camp in the Sierra Leone area of the forest to oversee the digging of six million holes for the official launch of the tree-planting today.
It will mark the lapse of a 60-day notice issued by authorities for settlers to leave.
Officials of Kenya Water Towers (KWT), Kenya Forest Research Institute (KEFRI), Kenya Forest Service (KFS), Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), National Environment Management Authority (Nema) and environmental lobbies were on the ground ready for the launch.
Every agency has been allocated a 7,000ha block to dig the holes and plant trees. The reclaimed area is divided into seven blocks.
Deputy County Commissioner Felix Kisalu said 95 per cent of the settlers or 3,000 households had left the forest by Thursday.
He added that about 100 households are still in the 14,000-hectare eviction area and have requested help to move their items and animals. Heavy rains coupled with the steep terrain have made the roads impassable.
“In the next 48 hours, we will archive the 100 per cent exit. We are using tractors and lorries to assist these families who are still in the forest,” Mr Kisalu said.
He added that 300 former forest settlers and members of the community neighbouring the reclaimed area would be hired to help in the planting of trees.