Hundreds of squatters who had invaded parts of the 922,300 acre Maasai Mau Forest started leaving on Tuesday.
The departures took place as operations to secure the forest began. The exercise involves Kenya Forest Service, Kenya Wildlife Service, Narok county government rangers as well as administration and regular police.
The squatters carried their belongings and left behind the temporary shelters they had called home for the last several years.
Among the affected settlements are Kipchoge, Ararwet and Kaplelach where squatters have no legal claim over land.
Some condemned the eviction, saying they were not given adequate time to prepare to move out.
“We learnt that we were supposed to leave through the press,” said John Kibet of Kipchoge area.
Monica Kalenda, who is KFS acting Chief Conservator of Forests, however said that they have homes and land elsewhere and that they invaded the forest to burn charcoal and graze.
Read: KFS takes over the Mau Forest, hints at eviction of encroachers
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The operation is aimed at halting further degradation of the forest which is under the county’s management.
KFS Chairman Peter Kinyua said it will have a human face.
Kinyua said targeted settlements are those beyond the 24 km line that demarcates the forest and Olpusimoru Forest Reserve which is under KFS.
“The objective of the operation is to halt activities that degrade the vital water tower,” he said in a statement.
“It includes recovery of illegally harvested forest produce, especially Red Cedar posts. [It will stop the] destruction of charcoal kilns and [result in the] enhancement of highway patrols.”
Kinyua said the service will work with all stakeholders, the county in particular, to ensure the success of the operation.
About 12,000 hectares of the forest, that is the source of Ewaso Nyiro River and five others, have been encroached.
Last Sunday, Deputy President William Ruto backed the eviction, saying only squatters beyond the cut-line would be targeted.
The government, he said, plans to plant tea along the forest borders to deter future encroachment.
KFS has deployed an additional 150 rangers to take part in the eviction which is expected to end in less than a week.
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