Security forces tortured scores of men and raped a dozen women in a sweep against the mainly ethnic Somali population of remote northeast Kenya intended to disarm militias, a rights group yesterday.
The accusation by US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) of brutalities in a late 2008 operation adds to a litany of allegations against Kenya’s army and police in the past few years of terrorising and killing in security sweeps, Reuter`s reports.
“This is not a question of a few bad apples disobeying orders,” said Kenneth Roth, HRW executive director.
“This operation was the result of a strategy devised by senior officials to use brutal force against Kenyans.”
Echoing the recommendation of a UN report on abuses by Kenyan security forces, Roth urged the removal of the east African nation’s police commissioner and attorney-general.
The security forces routinely deny allegations of abuse. They say rights groups swallow politically motivated accounts by activists.
“The story of torture and rape by our forces does not exist. Anyone who says so needs psychiatric help,” police spokesman Eric Kiraithe told Reuters.
“We have incidents of one or two officers committing crime and these are found guilty of unprofessional conduct. But these stories of torture are a terrible offence,” he said.
HRW said the October 2008 operation to disarm warring militias in the Mandera region, a notoriously violent area where the borders of Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia meet, left more than 1200 injured, one dead, and at least 12 women raped.
“The Kenyan army and police targeted 10 towns and villages, rounding up the population, beating and torturing male residents en masse, and indulging in widespread looting and destruction,” it said, terming it a “deliberate and brutal attack” on locals.
As well as constant beating, “some men had their genitals pulled with pliers, tied with wire, or beaten with sticks as a method of torture”, the report added.
At the time of the operation, police and army officials said they were purging an arms-infested region for the good of the population.
Scores die every year in inter-clan fights and cross-border raids, mainly over scant resources in the arid region that has suffered repeatedly from drought.
The HRW report came as Kenya’s security chiefs face a barrage of accusations for their tactics in repressing rebels in Mount Elgon region, cracking down on the outlawed Mungiki gang, and shooting protesters after the last presidential election.
“Kenya needs to make absolutely clear to security forces that they will be held accountable for serious abuses,” Roth said.
”The right way to start is to conduct independent inquiries into these brutal operations in Mandera and to remove the police commissioner and attorney general.”
Both men have rejected previous calls to step down, and President Mwai Kibaki appears reluctant to move against them despite the damage to Kenya’s international reputation from the allegations against his security forces.
LRA accused of DR Congo massacre
About 1200 Congolese civilians have been killed and around 1500 abducted by Ugandan rebels over the last six months, a UN official says.
Ross Mountain, the UN secretary general’s deputy special representative, said last week that the violence had taken place in the remote Haut-Uele region in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
He said that most of the people who had been abducted were children.
The Lord’s Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony, is believed to have taken as many as 20 000 children for use as soldiers, porters and “wives” since it launched its war against the Ugandan government in the early 1990s.
“The LRA has traditionally recruited children in Uganda and its presence in Congo, in the past, has been as a kind of back base,” Mountain told Al Jazeera.
“Unfortunately they have now taken up actions against the civilian population and they are spreading through a very large area in small numbers, they are not a large force.”
Christmas Day massacre
Mountain said that 600 Congolese were killed in attacks on two villages on Christmas Day as part of a “reprisal” for a military offensive launched by DR Congo, Uganda and southern Sudan.
“This has put enormous fear amongst the population if even a handful of LRA combatants are approaching, or even the rumour that they might be approaching -leads them to empty the village,” he said.
The fighting between the government forces and the LRA has driven 220 000 Congolese from their homes since December 2008, Mountain said.
Kony has said that the LRA is fighting to defend the Biblical Ten Commandments, but the group has also stated its desire to topple Yoweri Museveni, the Ugandan president, and has complained of a number of local grievances.
The LRA declared a unilateral ceasefire in August 2006 and a truce was agreed later the same month.
However, as negotiations for a lasting peace dragged on LRA fighters began to drift away from two designated assembly points and the talks broke down.
Another possible breakthrough came in February last year , when the Ugandan government and LRA signed a deal stipulating that Kampala would set up special courts to handle accusations of war crimes against LRA leaders, rather than handing them over to the International Criminal Court.
But Kony has repeatedly failed to show up to sign a final peace deal.