Despite the tranquillity inside the national park, communities around the southern slopes of Mount Elgon have been embroiled in land disputes with the government since colonial times, and wracked by violent episodes over the past two decades. The most recent began in 2005 with the formation of the Sabaot Land Defence Force. Formed to resist a forced resettlement programme, the SLDF rapidly degenerated into a brutal insurgency that terrorized unsupportive Sabaot villagers and Okiek tribespeople alike, with murder, mutilations and rape, and is estimated to have displaced 66,000 people and killed more than six hundred. Early in 2008, as the world watched the post-election clashes in Eldoret, Kisumu and Naivasha, the Kenyan military went on a rampage in the southern Elgon foothills, arresting every Sabaot man over the age of 15, torturing and raping villagers suspected of involvement with the SLDF, and, according to the local MP, Fred Kapondi, killing more than 150 people. As reported by Human Rights Watch, the Red Cross and the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Philip Alston, it seemed that the Kenyan armed forces believed they could get away with murder, and, if anyone noticed, the even worse atrocities committed by the SLDF would cover for them. In May 2008, the army cornered and shot the SLDF’s military commander, 25-year-old Wycliffe Komon Matakwei, and arrested or killed most senior members of the militia, though questions remain about their funding and political control. For now, the insurgency seems to be over, but the issues of landlessness, official abuses and legal whitewash persist, as do rumours that the SLDF itself remains secretly in operation.

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