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Politicising crime in Mt Elgon will fuel SLDF, G-5 reunion.

Up till late 2016, Mt Elgon was a stable serene area, recovering from the hangovers of the maiming and killing of hundreds of people by the Sabaot Lands Defence Forces between 2006 and 2008.

But a land registration plan to settle some landless people from Cheptais in the controversial Chepyuk Settlement Scheme Phase III aroused the traumatic memories of the war.

At the centre of the exercise was the Cheptais Deputy County Commissioner (DCC) Omar Salat and a local politician. The promised that if by any of the residents failed to get the 2.5-acre per-head piece of land, then they would be compensated as had happened with the other internally-displaced persons in the country.

With the premium placed on the land in the region due to their high fertility, residents coughed out as much as Sh100,000. Ultimately, multiple sources have confirmed that at least 13,000 people were registered. 'But there were those who did not make it, yet they felt they deserved being listed as the would-be-beneficiaries without making any payment,' says Mt Elgon MP John Serut.

Investigations reveal that the land that was being targeted for distribution was the 100-acre piece of land set aside for public utilities by the government in the Chepyuk Phase III at Sarya area. Jackson Kwemboi-a father of six-says he sold his only cow to get registered in the ambitious programme dubbed Apewe Land. 'I trusted the word of the DCC. I knew this was not a gamble. Shockingly, it turned out to be a grand theft that has left me in more poverty.'

Faced with imminent competition from the possible entry of the new landless people, a violence broke out late last year. The occupants of the public utilities land, led by a Timothy Kiptanui Kitai Cheparkach, invaded and attacked the neighbouring occupants of the Shamba System. Notably, two people were kidnapped and killed in Mt Elgon Forest.

The killings saw those affected fight back, defending their land. Others ran away. The Cheptais District Officer was one of the victims. As the attacks intensified, so did the public fury. A retaliation was hatched that saw one of the suspects, a Mr Arap Kiraka, killed.

'He was a big 'disinheritor', maybe because he was one of the well-known farmers around,' said a source. The onslaught against the suspects escalated the following day with the setting ablaze of Cheparkach's house, a move that prompted him to come up with a 'List of Six'-those who allegedly set his property on fire.

A notorious gangster, Mr Cheparkach is said to have vowed to kill all those involved. Indeed, it did not take long before security agencies linked his warning to the shooting in Chepkurkur where a pastor, a Mr Omar, and two others died. Sources claim Mr Omar had bought fuel that was used in the burning down of Cheparkach's house.

With the amplification of the attacks and counter-attacks, Mr Cheparkach came up with G-5, a gang of five whose objective was to bring down the 'List of Six' and its associates. It is understood that G-5 is made up of the General Commander, Mr Cheparkach, the deputy Ngeywo Kitai, who is also Cheparkach's younger brother, Colonel Isaac Mukwawa who was killed last week, a Mr Saitoti and a Mr Chebongen. A Mr Sahani, a Bukusu, is said to have been recruited recently into the gang. Part-time criminals, most of whom are closely associated with the dreaded SLDF, assist G-5 in executing 'tough assignments that require reinforcement'.

'G-5 is not SLDF. This is a deadly group that is on a revenge mission. Cheparkach was never in SLDF. When we were forming SLDF in 2005/2006, General Cheparkach was in jail. But G-5 works with SLDF. Chebongen, for instance, was in SLDF, and he was even jailed for some time in Uganda,' a former SLDF soldier said in confidence.

Beyond the revenge, residents fear G-5 is mutating into a political gang. When they attack a place, for instance, they would say: 'Wapi huyo Kapondi wenu na Flying Squad wakuje?' This claim was echoed by the wife of the slain Apewe Land Chairman Maurice Tutei.

Residents fear with the political turn the insecurity in Mt Elgon is taking, coupled with a possible union of G-5 and SLDF - which is regenerating slowly - many people would lose lives, making the region that feeds Bungoma County uninhabitable.

So far, 40 people have been killed since the instability started few months ago.

'To end these killings, land issues in Mt Elgon need to be sorted out. Land ownership is still a big question,' says Mokin Ptanguny, a former CEC in Bungoma County. So sticky has been the issue that on Sunday while in Cheptais, Deputy President William Ruto called on the National Lands Commission to step in and address the problem it.

Analysts say the Chepyuk land issue is almost four decades old. The Ndorobos, who claim to be the original owners of the chunk of land, were settled in Phase I and Phase II. When Phase III allocation kicked off, the Soys, who had been left out of the first two phases felt that they were the only deserving cases. The Ndorobos, however, believe that Chepyuk is their home, and therefore, the land rightly belongs to them.
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Publication:The Star (Nairobi, Kenya)
Date:Feb 28, 2018
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