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Western Kenyans Accuse Ugandan Army of Excessive Force


Cattle-herding nomads from western Kenya confirm United Nations and aid agency reports that forces of the Ugandan army are using helicopter gunships and mortar against communities living on the Kenya-Uganda border. The Ugandan army denies all such allegations. Arjun Kohli has more on the story from VOA's bureau in Nairobi.

Simon Poghisio, a Kenyan member of parliament, has said that Ugandan troops crossed over the Kenyan border into the West Pokot District on Tuesday. Poghisio tells VOA that the army regularly uses excessive force and crosses into Kenya, but the Ugandan army denies this.

According to Poghisio, Ugandan soldiers crossed the Kenyan border and opened fire on a group of Pokot warriors on Tuesday. He says that the warriors were trying to escape back into Kenya after stealing cattle in Uganda. Local media reports say dead bodies were found on the Kenyan side of the border and there was evidence of villages being burned.

"It has happened before," he said. "This week is much more serious because there is confrontation. Helicopter gunships were used and some mortars were thrown. We have lost some people, the numbers are not confirmed but there has been a problem. There is a conflict there."

The Pokot people live in a drought-prone region along the Kenya-Uganda border. They live by herding cattle on either side of the border.

Milk forms an important part of the Pokot diet and one way of amassing wealth is by acquiring more cattle. Dowries and debts are often paid back using cattle rather than money and stealing cattle from neighboring tribes is common practice.

Felix Kulayigye, the Ugandan army spokesman, denies media reports that as many as sixty people are feared dead after skirmishes between the Ugandan army and Pokot tribesmen.

He says the warriors were returning to Kenya with stolen cattle when they encountered UPDF soldiers on patrol. In the skirmish that followed he says seven Pokot warriors and one Ugandan sergeant were killed.

Kulayigye insists Tuesday's fighting took place in the Ugandan hills, not far from the Kenyan border. He denies all accusations from locals that the UPDF forces crossed the border into Kenya and says the army had no reason to use helicopter gunships against the Pokot.

"As far as we know there has been no incident that requires use for gunships and bombs, because there have been no major raids," he said. "The Pokots have always come in and raided animals. In between the hills and the Kenyan border they encountered our foot patrol and attacked it killing the sergeant who was commanding it and wounding two others."

Local newspapers report that cattle raids in the region increase whenever the Ugandan Army troops, better known as the UPDF, are deployed away from the region to northern Uganda. During these periods, there is less security, and raids between villages across the border occur more frequently.

The Ugandan army is deployed north to quell the violent activities of a breakaway group, known as the Lords Resistance Army.

Tuesday's skirmish follows an attack early last month, when 500 head of cattle were stolen at Suam River, which acts as a border between Kenya and Uganda.