Villagers express fear over harassment by police in search of al shabaab militants

Police officers in Witu Forest PHOTO: file

Lamu, KENYA: Villagers of Koreni village in Mkunumbi Division, Lamu West have been living in fear since last month when security agencies allegedly threatened to ‘finish’ the entire village in case of any Al-Shabaab attack at Milihoi area.

On August 2 this year,police are reported to have raided the villages, dragged people, men, women and children and conducted forceful searches for Al-Shabaab militants and weapons in their homes.

Milihoi,a renowned hotspot for Alshabaab attacks and ambushes on security vehicles and passenger vehicles is located on the Lamu-Mpeketoni route and is roughly 8KM from Koreni village.

In July 13 this year,Milihoi hit harder in the headlines after Alshabaab militants waylaid and took hostage Housing PS Mariam El Maawy and five other occupants of her official vehicle including her personal bodyguards and her nephew.

Only the PS survived the incidence while all the others including her nephew were killed by the militants in what was seen as the most daring attack of the militia group.

The villagers are now blaming IPOA for failing to take any action despite having reported the threats to them.

Speaking in the Koreni village on Monday,residents said it was unfair for the security agencies to target them when they had no control of the manner or timing in which the Alshabaab militants operate during their attacks.

The villager majority of whom are herders, said they have never felt free and safe ever since the security agencies made the direct threat to them and are always wondering what will become of them if the militants were to strike again at Milihoi.

During the raid by police on the village on August 2,several villagers were also arrested as ‘suspects’ including a former Chief who is also a Nyumba Kumi elder in the village Muhumed Kalmey.

They were held at the Mpeketoni police station for several hours and interrogated by police before being released.

Kalmey said they had written to the IPOA over the matter but wondered why nothing had been done even after the authority showed concern and promised to follow up.

“What we are facing at the hands of the police is very unfair.They drag us out of our houses and conduct searches by force.They say they are looking for Alshabaab or weapons.According to them,we are suspects.But above all they told us we would face the music if any Alshabaab attack took place at Milihoi ever again.For God’s sake,how are we responsible is Alshabaab attacks Milihoi or any other place for that matter?All we ask is that they don’t victimize us even as they fight the militants who are equally our enemies.We are peace lovers but they treat us though we were the enemy,”said Kalmey.

The villagers however feel its unfair for the police to target them in the war on Alshabaab instead of focusing their efforts on the real issues causing insecurity and terrorism in the county.

Musa Gula said as it is at the moment,the villagers are more scared of the police and military than they are of the Alshabaab.

“The police should stop targeting us and harassing us anytime they feel like.That attitude has made many people who have crucial information to hide it since they are afraid that when you tell the police,you become their number one suspect.We need to work together and have a good relationship on both sides is this thing is to succeed,”said Gula.