Kenyans sue British military over fire that destroyed part of wildlife sanctuary
Some 1,000 Kenyans are suing the British military, after a massive fire in March destroyed part of a wildlife conservation area and affected people in the surrounding communities of the East African nation.
The fire, which has been blamed on the UK military exercise, destroyed about 12,000 acres of land at the privately owned Lolldaiga conservancy in central Kenya, home to animals such as elephants, buffalos, lions, hyenas, jackals and the endangered Grevy's zebra.
Lawyers for the Kenyans say the British Army Training Unit Kenya (BATUK) started the fire while conducting military training exercises.
More difficult was the reported death of at least one Kenyan villager whose widow is a part of the lawsuit.
The British government acknowledged responsibility at the time of the incident but has fought against claims made by the African Center for Corrective and Preventive Action, an environmental group that acts on behalf of the affected communities and is a party to the lawsuit.
“We’re doing everything we can to mitigate the circumstances and put in place measures to ensure it never happens again,” said Jane Marriott, the British diplomat serving Kenya, at the time of the fire.
The African center says villagers complained of health impacts from the blaze, as well as loss of livelihood and broader environmental damage.
Residents say the scale of the wildfire at the conservancy was unprecedented - they say it lasted for at least four days as thick plumes of smoke filled the sky, making it impossible to move.
Some elderly people say they suffered burning eyes, while local preacher Duncan Kariuki, 43, said his one-year-old child had to be hospitalised for smoke inhalation.
A Kenyan court in June denied the British army’s request to prevent the villagers from joining in the lawsuit. A separate ruling on whether the case may proceed is expected soon.