A massive police operation was launched on Thursday in the Kora game reserve in Mwingi to net suspected Somali bandits suspected to be behind a spate of killings in the region.
By evening, 14 suspected bandits had been arrested and two guns believed to be some of illegal weapons used to terrorise residents also seized from the criminals, in the first major security operation since the 1988 Ngomeni massacre.
For the first time in three decades, security officers combing the vast game reserve in pursuit of the killers were given air surveillance reinforcement from police helicopters.
According to Kitui County Police Commander Cheruto Githinji, security officers had been mobilised to drive away herders and their livestock out of Kitui County and confiscate any illegal weapons.
Mrs Githinji, who is overseeing the operation, said she didn’t have conclusive details as the operation was still under way but insisted that it won’t stop until the volatile border between Kitui and Tana River Counties is cleared of illegal immigrants.
“We’ve recovered two guns so far but the number of suspects arrested may change as the operation progresses, but I also don’t want to give information that may jeopardise the whole exercise,” she said.
However, other sources told the Nation that four guns had been recovered from a group of herders found hiding in the game reserve with their camels. No shootout was reported.
The police commander also gave assurances that the operation will not be called off until the herders are driven back to their counties of origin.
31 PEOPLE DEAD
The operation comes after a wave of gun attacks and senseless violence that has claimed 31 lives since April 2016, the latest being two days ago, when three people were shot dead.
Dozens more have been maimed and hundreds of families displaced.
In the latest attack, heavily armed bandits raided Kathungu shopping centre on the Mwingi–Garissa highway and sprayed residents with bullets, just three hours after a high-powered security team led by Eastern Regional Commissioner Wycliffe Ogallo addressed a baraza at the same market
Scores of survivors are still nursing gunshot wounds at Mwingi Level Four Hospital while most of them have been left homeless after their houses were torched.
ATTACKS ON INNOCENT PEOPLE
The relentless bandit attacks prompted Mwingi Central MP Joe Mutambu to allege that there was more to the killings than just ordinary banditry and questioned the government’s failure to stop the attacks on innocent civilians.
The MP claimed that there was deliberate laxity and an unwillingness on the part of government to contain the attacks as no single arrest had been made or a shootout reported by officers who pursue the bandits after every attack.
“If one elephant is killed, the government mobilises helicopters to pursue the poachers but in Mwingi, people are being terrorised daily and nothing is being done to protect them despite police choppers lying idle at Wilson Airport,” he said.
Mr Mutambu claimed there was a political motive to the killings and said the bandits were collecting the spent cartridges to conceal the identity of guns they were using.
FLUSH OUT KILLERS
“Why can’t the government deploy police choppers or military personnel to pursue and flush out the killers from their known hideouts?” the MP posed, adding that his constituents are fed up with empty promises.
Six primary schools in Ukasi have remained closed since January after hundreds of families fled the area and started living in makeshift camps following the killings of four people on Christmas Day last year.
The closed primary schools are Ngooni, Engamba, Kasiluni, Kathungu Inyanzai, and Sosoma.
Terrified residents told the Nation that the bandits often collect the spent cartridges after every attack before escaping into the nearby thicket.
The regional commissioner spent two days in Mwingi assuring the residents that everything will be done to restore peace in the area and that the closed schools will be opened so as their children can resume learning.
“The government will start recruiting police reservists among the residents to boost their security as we conduct operations to mop up all illegal arms being used to terrorise innocent people,” Mr Ogallo said.
The senior administrator cautioned residents against entering into lease agreements for grazing pastures and water with strangers without involving government authorities.