Kenya on Wednesday charged five regional officials with the murder of 32 Kenyan police officers killed by armed cattle raiders in an ambush at the weekend, described as the worst attack yet on the country’s police.
The junior officials, who oversee a cluster of villages in the northwestern region, pleaded not guilty after they were arrested early on Wednesday.
Police and troops, backed by military helicopters, launched an offensive against the raiders suspected to be from the ethnic Turkana community who had stolen cattle from the Samburu tribe.
The raiders used machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades to kill the officers in a military-style ambush in the remote northwestern territory.
Osman Warfa, provincial commissioner of the vast Rift Valley Province, said the five junior regional officials planned the attack. The five were also charged with livestock theft and were being held in custody to assist with investigations.
“We obtained credible information after investigating that implicated the five,” Warfa told reporters. “They planned the raid, kept the stolen animals and instructed the raiders to kill the officers.”
The attack has highlighted how ill-equipped Kenya’s police force is at a time when it is facing new challenges.
Military helicopters swooped low over the site of the ambush at Suguta Valley in northwest Kenya, tracking a convoy of trucks ferrying police officers and paramilitary units, residents at the nearby town of Baragoi said.
Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki had on Tuesday night ordered military troops to join in a crackdown on the attackers.
“Baragoi is like Kismayu or Somalia today,” said Raphael Lekulkulai, a shopkeeper from the Samburu tribe in Baragoi, referring to a city in Somalia that African peacekeepers recently entered to drive out Islamist militants.
“Our town is like a military camp, helicopters are flying, taking off, landing. The number of police [and] paramilitary in military jungle uniforms is almost more or equal to the local population,” he said.
Thousands of people, mostly Turkana, started fleeing Suguta Valley on Tuesday fearing reprisals after security forces blamed members of the ethnic group for the killings.