Two people were reportedly shot dead as chaos erupt between hundreds of armed squatters and beneficiaries of plots in the disputed Taveta Phase II Settlement Scheme in Taita-Taveta County.
According to the residents and leaders, trouble started when County Government surveyors visited the about 2,000 acre-plot to identify plots to the beneficiaries only to be met by more than 500 hostile squatters who had invaded the land and subdivided it amongst themselves.
The resistant squatters claimed the land had illegally been allocated to outsiders at the expense of the locals who are still squatting on their own land.
Besides cultivating the plots which had been lying idle since 2007, the new raiders had reportedly put up structures.
County Police Commander Fred Ochieng said two squatters had been arrested for obstructing County Government Surveyors and Physical Planners from identifying plots for the beneficiaries.
The police commander however vehemently denied claims that two people had been killed in the land fracas.
“This is a total lie. No death has so far been reported in the affected area as claimed by other quarters. I will give a comprehensive report later,” said Mr Ochieng.
According to the residents and leaders, the squatters had taken advantage of the government delay in settling settle the beneficiaries to invade the land.
Senior Interior and Coordination officials said the beneficiaries were issued with title deeds last week only to face resistance from the hostile squatters who claimed ownership of the disputed area.
The controversial plots were allocated to the beneficiaries in 2007 after the government seized more than 15,000 acres of the disputed land formerly owned by former Taveta MP Basil Criticos.
A total of about 13,000 acres of land was set aside for settlement of squatters while some 2,000 acres adjacent to the Kenya-Tanzania border was allocated for Taveta town expansion programme that is yet to be implemented due to frequent squatter invasion.
Taveta Deputy County Commissioner Henry Wafula said the squatters had invaded the land and built structures on the plots, which do not belong to them.
He disclosed that more than 6,000 people had been issued with title deeds for the plots only for the squatters to invade and subdivide them amongst themselves in total disregard of the law.
“We are supporting the owners of the land and the squatters should vacate immediately or else stern action will be taken against them,” warned Mr Wafula.
He also discounted claims that two people had been shot dead as a result of the controversy surrounding the disputed land.
“We are doing everything possible to provide security to the land owners so that they can be able to develop their plots to transform their lives,” said Wafula
But eye witnesses said two people had been shot dead with poisoned arrows and scores of others injured. Eyewitness said two were shot with arrows after retaliation by the beneficiaries of the plots.
“Surveyors were repulsed by the hostile armed squatters. The beneficiaries of the plots hired goons who later retaliated and shot dead two squatters with arrows,” claimed the eye witness.
According to the witness, one of the deceased was suspected to have been shot dead because he had a huge hole at the back of his body that could have been afflicted by a bullet.
“The deceased was first taken to Taveta Sub County hospital bleeding profusely and later transferred to Moshi in Tanzania where he succumbed. The other suspect died on the spot,” said the witnesses.
In one of the related recent incidences, one person was shot dead with an arrow and three others seriously injured at the disputed 3,000 acre Machungwani Farm and Riata village by the squatters who resisted eviction.
The hot-blooded area is one of the epicenters of conflicts between the beneficiaries of the land and squatters who accused the government of displacing them.
County Assembly Deputy Speaker Chripus Tondoo claimed some politicians were inciting residents to invade private property.
The Bomani Ward Representative where the incident occurred however said there had been growing concern over irregularities in allocation of land in the area, which is prompting residents to revolt.