Tension was high on Sunday in Maasai Mau Forest after settlers threatened to disrupt the ongoing survey which will mark the launch of the third phase of evictions.
About 500 settlers who assembled at Sierra Leone area of the forest where a team of surveyors have began marking the new boundaries, told journalists that they would not accept the new boundaries a day after they reportedly said they backed the process.
The settlers said while they welcomed the new boundaries demarcated by a team of government surveyors, they took issue with the manner in which the Narok county council had drawn a different boundary which closed in many residents.
The more than 500 settlers who were led by a spokesman for those evicted in 2005, Mr Julius Ng’etich, and the secretary of Enkaroni Group Ranch Mr Joseph Ole Mapelu told the charged meeting that should the boundaries be marked in such a discordant manner, then they would “resist the evictions in their totality.”
Earlier, the irate residents uprooted the beacons which had been placed by the county council in 2005 to mark the boundaries.
On Thursday, the settlers had told the Press that they were happy with the boundaries as they had closed in a few people and it had enabled them know their fate so that they can move on with their lives.
“We cannot accept the county council which gave us this land as a group ranch to turn around and be the ones persecuting us instead of giving us justice. Should this be the way to do things, we shall stay put on our farms and fight for our rights from within,” said Mr Ng'etich who read the statement on behalf of the settlers on Sunday.
It took the intervention of Narok South District Commissioner Mr Chimwaga Mongo to cool tempers by reassuring the settlers that the team of surveyors did not include council officials and that the surveying was not final.
“The team is here to survey and mark boundaries only. They have not come to implement evictions as they have no mandate nor even capacity,” said the DC at the area which is usually tense, as it bore the brunt of the 2005 evictions.
Another spokesperson, Mr William Cheruiyot, said tension heightened when the surveyors who were accompanied by armed security personnel arrived, adding they thought the eviction squad had been unleashed on them.
“We were not informed of their arrival which made us think we were going to be evicted without being compensated,” he said, adding they would not accept anything short of full compensation.
At the same time, the Government has said there was no going back on the efforts to save the country’s biggest water tower.
A member of the interim Coordinating Secretariat who declined to be named said after the survey is completed in about a month’s time, the title deed for the forest will be processed, paving way for the eviction of settlers and forest rehabilitation.
“The government will spend Sh77 million in surveying all the 21 forest blocks that form the Mau complex. After the exercise, title deeds for respective blocks will be issued,” said the official.
While launching the survey last month, Lands Permanent Secretary Ms Dorothy Angote said the exercise will take about 60 days after which the evictions will start in earnest.
About 15, 000 settlers are settled on the 146,800-hectare Maasai Mau. They encroached it through the extension and sub-division of group ranches which began in 1998.