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Kenyans Anxious About Operation to Track Police Killers

Kenyan Commissioner of Police Mathew Kirai Iteere, left, addresses media on the weekend attack on the police officers in Samburu, northwestern Kenya at Wilson Airport Nairobi, Kenya, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012.
Kenya has deployed troops to the northwestern region of the country where more than 40 police officers were killed in an ambush last weekend. While the government says it needs to strike back, civilians in the area are worried they could get caught in the crossfire.

The Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) have begun searching areas of Samburu county for Turkana cattle rustlers accused of carrying out the deadly attack on police forces.

The National Security Council ordered the deployment to assist the police, who were outgunned during the ambush in the Suguta Valley on November 17.

As the military helicopters began to circle overhead Thursday, hundreds of residents started to flee areas of Samburu, fearing they would be targeted in the military strike.

A member of parliament from Turkana, Josephat Nanok, denounced the operation alongside two other MPs from the region in a press conference Thursday.

“Right now, KDF forces have been deployed all over Turkana and Samburu County and the local communities are worried that innocent children, women and youth are going to be tortured,” Nanok said. "This deployment is ill-advised, because it is testimony that our internal security apparatus have totally failed.”

Defense Ministry Spokesman Bogita Ongeri told VOA that the troop deployment was necessary, saying such an attack on police cannot be taken lightly.

He said the troops are taking their lead from local authorities, and that their objective is to find those responsible for the killing.

“We don't target any community in such an operation because criminals are criminals and we are dealing with criminals, not the innocent civilian population,” Ongeri said.

To reassure concerned politicians, Ongeri said KDF works with the local, provincial authorities, and follows strict rules of engagement.

“And one of the things we need to ensure members of parliament from the area is that we are very fair when it comes to internal operations and we will make sure that we don't encourage any harassment of local populations,” Ongeri said.

Kenyan security forces have a poor track record when it comes to human rights.

The U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch has accused the military and police of forcibly "disappearing" hundreds of people during a security crackdown that followed an insurgency in the Mount Elgon area in 2008.

Just last month, the group said Kenya's government should investigate alleged assaults by police on villagers in North Eastern province.