Witnesses: Officials, Armed Police Forcing Thousands of Displaced Kenyans From Camp

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Kenyan officials backed by armed police are forcing thousands of Kenyans displaced by postelection violence to leave a refugee camp, witnesses said Wednesday.

The head of Doctors Without Borders, Remi Carrier, said local officials accompanied by armed police officers were going from tent to tent Wednesday in a camp housing 9,000 people in the western town of Kitale, and ordering people to leave in a matter of hours.

A woman who objected was beaten unconscious, witnesses said.

Catherine Nakhumicha said a high-ranking district official hit her 23-year-old cousin, Dorcas Nelima, in the face. When she collapsed and screamed, he beat her with a log of firewood for several minutes. The official threatened others with the log when they came to investigate the screams, Nakhumicha said.

Efforts to revive Nelima were unsuccessful and she was hauled off by police, witnesses said.

The cousin said Nelima had objected to leaving the camp because she was going to be dumped with her two toddlers in the burnt-out ruins of her house, with no shelter in the rainy season.

"The man said, 'I've been telling you to go since last week. You are not supposed to be here,"' said Nakhumicha.

Other witnesses confirmed witnessing the beating.

One resident, Ronald Barasa, said officials also would not listen when he explained that he, his pregnant wife and five young children had nowhere to go. They were squatters on a farm and fear attack if they return, he said. They left their home after seeing a neighbor's young son shot dead, he said.

"The police have removed my tent ... put it in the road," said Barasa, who is 42. "They say we must leave this camp. They say they don't want to see anybody because Kibaki says we must go home," he said.

The reference was to Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki. Government spokesman Alfred Mutua did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Carrier said many of the camp's inhabitants have nowhere to go, and even those recuperating from surgery are being told they must leave.

Thousands of houses and businesses were torched and about 600,000 people were forced from their homes in violence following Kenya's disputed Dec. 27 elections. Clashes took an ethnic turn, and tribes with long-held grievances began attacking each other.

After months of talks, Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga formed a unity government last month.

The government wants displaced farmers to return home and plant crops during the rainy season, which already has started. Kenya faces a severe shortfall of corn just as world prices are skyrocketing, because many farmers' homes and fields were burnt in the violence.

Last week the government launched an operation to help the displaced get home. But many interviewed by The Associated Press said they fear more attacks if they return. Others who left camps quickly have returned, saying they found inadequate food, shelter and security in their home areas.

In Kipkelion, also in western Kenya, a local official said at least five people who returned home had been attacked and beaten and several had fled back to a camp for the displaced. The official, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to journalists, said farmers from the Kalenjin tribe were afraid returning Kikuyus would try to avenge murdered relatives and seize stolen property. In some cases, local children were being used as scouts to check who had returned, he said.

At the Kitale camp, Carrier said many people were considering fleeing to neighboring Uganda.

"They are saying if we can't be displaced in our own country, we will be refugees in Uganda," he said.

More than 2,400 Kenyan refugees are living at a camp in northwestern Uganda and countless others are staying with friends or relatives there. Given a choice last week to move to a permanent refugee camp or return home, only 323 chose to return to Kenya.

Stephen Ndichu, a father of three, said he would never go back, because a mob had attacked him with machetes and left him for dead.

"I can never go back after what I've experienced. I saw someone skinned alive. There is too much hate," he said. "These politicians have reached agreement before but it didn't last. Why will it last this time?"