January 27, 2006

Kenyan police burn homes of forest dwellers

NAIVASHA, Kenya (Reuters) - Kenyan police burned down the
homes of some 4,000 people in an effort to stop them from
squatting in a Rift Valley forest, residents said on Friday

Settlers living in the valley's Eburru forest near the town
of Naivasha in central Kenya spent Thursday night out in the
cold after police set more than 300 houses on fire in an
attempt to flush them out and keep them from returning to the

"We shall not stop the exercise until we get rid of all
those residing in the forest as they have caused wanton
destruction to a water catchment area," Naivasha District
Officer Kaunda Maikara told Reuters.

Settlers and squatters, like those in Eburru who cut down
trees to make way for their farms and making charcoal, have
been blamed for Kenya's increasing deforestation and the
environmental damage that it causes.

Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai earlier this month urged
Kenya's government to do more to protect and rehabilitate
indigenous forests.

Last year, the government evicted between 10,000-50,000
families from the edge of the vast Mau Forest in the Rift
Valley as part of a campaign it said was to save the country's
natural resources.

The squatters won a temporary reprieve last month after the
government abruptly halted the eviction following protests from
local leaders.

"We are ready to die here and we won't shift unless we are
shown alternative land where we can settle," forest resident
Charles Mbuthia said, adding that several people were injured
in the exercise.

The government has defended the evictions as righting past
wrongs of land illegally apportioned or sold during former
president Daniel arap Moi's 24-year reign.