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EU suspends Kenya water project after fatal shooting

Nairobi, Kenya | AFP | The European Union late Wednesday suspended a large-scale water conservation project in Kenya after evictions of local indigenous people turned fatally violent this week.

The indefinite suspension of the $38 million (31 million euro) project follows the reported killing of a member of the local Sengwer community by Kenya Forest Service (KFS) rangers on Tuesday.

Regarded as squatters by government, the Sengwer people have resisted efforts to move them from the Embobut Forest, which they see as ancestral lands.

The scheme aims at conserving forested areas in Kenya’s western highlands that are a crucial rainwater catchment area.

The EU’s ambassador to Kenya, Stefano Dejak, said the shooting had occurred despite warnings to the government that “use of force… against innocent locals” would trigger the programme’s suspension.

“Accordingly, we are now suspending the support to the Water Towers Programme with the Government of Kenya,” he said.

Kenya’s government spokesman Eric Kiraithe said he was aware of the EU’s decision and that the shooting was being investigated.

In a statement, the EU said the project, started in 2016, “was never expected to involve any evictions or use of violence” against indigenous peoples.

The EU said it had first received reports of abuses linked to the project “more than a year ago”.

– Growing criticism –
Pressure has been building in recent days.

Indigenous and human rights groups have been pushing the EU to halt the project.

They say there has been a series of abuses, including the burning of homes, possessions and food, forced evictions and injuries.

On Monday three UN experts said that, “The Sengwer are facing repeated attacks and forced evictions by agents of the Kenya Forest Service, which is an implementing agency in the project financed by the European Union.”

They said that on Christmas Day, “more than 100 armed Forest Service guards entered the traditional lands of the Sengwer in the Embobut Forest, firing gunshots, burning at least 15 homes and killing their livestock.”

But it was the killing on Tuesday of Robert Kirotich, allegedly by KFS officers, and the wounding of David Kosgei Kiptilkesi, both members of the Sengwer community, that prompted the EU’s decision.

Following the fatal shooting four non-governmental organisations — including Amnesty International Kenya and the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights — called for an investigation into the incident.

The groups said “live ammunition has been fired repeatedly” during forced evictions since late last year adding that with the killing of Kirotich a “line has now been crossed” and that the EU must suspend the project. Soon after, it did.

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