More deaths, displacement reported in Mt Elgon

A conflict over by land ownership rights in the Mt Elgon district of western Kenya has claimed the lives of another four people and forced more people to flee their homes in an area where an estimated 45,000 people have been displaced since the feud erupted a year ago.

"The situation is deteriorating," said James Kisia, deputy secretary-general and head of operations at the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS). "Four people were killed on Monday and 70 heads of cattle stolen in Chepkoya on Monday," he said.

The incidents forced dozens of people to flee to the towns of Kitale, Chepkitale and Kimilili, where the KRCS and its partner agencies have been distributing food, shelter material and providing health services to people who have sought refuge there.

"Tension is very high with a lot of shooting also reported in the Kopsiro area on Sunday night," Kisia said. "The situation is very unpredictable. A lot of people are in need of psychological support," he added. Education has also been disrupted, with some schools closed due to insecurity.

Authorities have tried to beef up security in Mt Elgon with heavy deployment of police in the area, but the violence has persisted.

Fighting broke out in December 2006 after inter-clan disputes over land between the Soy community and their Mosop neighbours. Both the Soy and Mosop clans belong to the Sabaot ethnic group.

''The situation is very unpredictable. A lot of people are in need of psychological support''

A group calling itself the Sabaot Land Defence Force has been blamed for most of the violence. It was formed after claims of injustice over land allocation in the Chebyuk settlement scheme. At least 180 people have died in the region since.

Members of the Mosop community have claimed that the conflict stemmed from years of allegedly skewed land distribution by the government.

Three decades ago, 600 Mosop families who inhabited the Mt Elgon forest were resettled in Chebyuk to make way for a game reserve. They were joined by members of the Soy community. In subsequent land reallocations, the Mosop got 65 percent of the land while the Soy got 35 percent.

Over the years many more people settled in Chebyuk and now lay claim to the land, with some having even sold their plots to unsuspecting buyers, further complicating the land-ownership situation.

Claims of injustice led to the formation of the Sabaot Land Defence Forces to fight what they perceive as dispossession of land they consider theirs.