In Kenya, Reports of Police Abuse in Mostly Ethnic-Somali Town
November 21, 2012
by Mohammed Yusuf
NAIROBI—Kenyan army and security forces clashed with locals in the predominantly ethnic-Somali town of Garissa on Tuesday, leaving scores wounded and many residents fuming with accusations of arson and physical abuse.
At least seven people are nursing bullet wounds from violence that broke out a day after unknown gunmen killed three soldiers who had stopped to change a tire on their truck in the northeastern region that borders war-torn southern Somalia.
Residents say security officers burned down some businesses in the course of searching for the attackers on Monday, prompting some locals to riot in protest.
According to a report by Agence France-Presse, Red Cross officials in Kenya have said that one person had died and 48 others were being treated at Garissa hospital in the wake of Tuesday morning's violence. Although no one has claimed responsibility for the shooting of Kenyan troops, the French news outlet also says Somali-based al-Shebab militants have vowed revenge for Kenya's military involvement in southern Somalia.
According to Billow Kerrow, a former member of parliament from Kenya’s primarily Muslim northeastern region, both government officials and civilians habitually target his community in the aftermath of terror attacks. Some Muslim leaders have also criticized the government for carrying out collective punishment in Garissa.
But Kenya military spokesman Colonel Cyrus Oguna said people are spreading lies about the military's behavior in Garissa.
“The military were on the outside of the village stopping anybody from fleeing out of the village, and the police carried out the search inside the village," he said of the recent crackdown on riots. "Where the village was and the fire [occurred] are on different areas, and therefore the allegations that the military or the police burned [a business] — that is unfounded and has got no basis whatsoever.”
Kenyan security forces have been on edge after more than 40 police officers were killed in an ambush by cattle rustlers in northwestern Kenya just over a week ago.
Meanwhile, calm has returned to Nairobi's predominantly ethnic-Somali neighborhood of Eastleigh, where paramilitary officers patrolled mostly empty streets a day after clashes involving Kenyan and Somali youth broke out in the wake of a bombing on Sunday. The explosion on a Nairobi bus killed at least seven and injured 29.
Shortly after than explosion, Iman Burran, chairman of the Eastleighwood youth forum, said he believes police are unfairly targeting the city's ethnic-Somali population.
"We need to do further investigations instead of targeting one community," he said. "Me, I am Somali Kenyan, but still I am Somali, I look like a Somali. I can be arrested because I am of Somali origin. We do know who is creating these problems, these bombs. We don't know whether its al-Shabab or other elements, unless we have independent investigations, we cannot verify."
New York-based Human Rights Watch has expressed concern about tactics used by Kenyan security officers, particularly in northeastern Kenya. The group accuses security officers of subjecting locals to beatings, torture, and other abuses.
Peter Cobus contributed to this report.
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