Kenya

Kenyans left homeless after fresh forest evictions

MAU FOREST, Kenya, Dec 30 (Reuters) - Hundreds of Kenyan families were left homeless on Friday following a new wave of forced government evictions from an environmentally sensitive forest area, witnesses said.

The government has ordered the removal of peasant farmers on the edge of the vast Mau Forest in the Rift Valley, saying the evictions were the start of a campaign to save the east African nation's natural resources.

The evictions first took place in the middle of 2005 but stopped after a court order and after criticism of the force used and claims of ethnic discrimination.

Witnesses said the fresh evictions resumed on Thursday but force was used late on Friday after the government deployed security personnel to burn houses in the Ararwet settlement area after families delayed their departure.

"The eviction is inevitable to save the forest which is the source of 12 rivers that drain into Lake Victoria," said area administrative commissioner Hassan Farah. The government says the farms were established illegally.

But the affected families said President Mwai Kibaki's government was not being fair to them because they held proper title deeds given by former President Daniel arap Moi's government in 1998.

"The government's action is inhuman," said Julius Ngetich, a spokesman for the affected families at a makeshift camp.

Most of the Mau Forest area farmers are, like Moi, from sub-clans of the Kalenjin tribe.

The government says the evictions, albeit with "a human face", will next extend to the Mount Kenya and Mount Elgon regions, also important catchment areas for major rivers.

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