Laikipia British Army fire victims to wait longer to know compensation fate
More than 5,000 claimants following the March 2021 Lolldaiga wild fire in Laikipia County will have to wait for more than a year to know the way forward in their compensation case.
When the matter came up for mention on Wednesday, new procedural rules were tabled by the Inter-Governmental Liaison Committee (IGLC) through the lawyer for the British Army Training Unit in Kenya (Batuk), Mr Lawrence Ondieki, which spelt a lengthy process of verification and determination of the compensation claims.
Community and environmental lobby group African Centre for Corrective and Preventive Action sued Batuk, claiming that the fire that consumed 7,000 acres of vegetation and emitted smoke that contained dangerous chemicals and explosives.
Once the suit was taken to the Land and Environment Court in Nanyuki, it was directed to the IGLC, which comprises government representatives from the United Kingdom and Kenya.
The claimants are demanding compensation from the British Government following the March 24, 2021 fire said to have been started by British soldiers during routine training, and which they claim adversely affected human and livestock health and the environment.
Justice Antonina Kossy Bor of the Land and Environment Court on Wednesday granted the rules and procedures that will now govern the directions that the IGLC will follow in determining the compensation.
The compensation rules and procedure indicate that IGLC would require 60 days from March 14, 2023 to receive all documents that have a bearing on the determination of their claim, including but not limited to, medical reports, loss adjustor’s reports and coordinates of the claimant’s residential location.
Upon expiry of the 60 days, IGLC would have an additional 90 days to assess the validity of the claims submitted and where a claimant has failed to provide the necessary documentation, the committee will be at liberty to reject that claim as invalid and will furnish the claimant with written reasons for the rejection,
Another 150 days will be allocated to the British army to indicate whether it is accepting or disputing the claims.
The claimants, through their lawyer Kelvin Kubai, lamented over the delayed process, pointing out that the search for justice has been slow, and that at least 50 claimants have died since March 2021 as a result of inhaling the toxic fumes from the fire, which lasted for nearly a week.
“We welcome the move by the court as this signals a positive move on the case, but we are still sceptical, given the torturous nature of this case and given the lack of precedence in such a manner, the claimants may not be really able to prove their case beyond reasonable doubt,” Mr Kubai said.
The claimants who were eagerly awaiting the compensation date to be announced on Wednesday expressed disappointment at the new development.
“The more we wait for the compensation the more claimants continue to die from the negative effects of the fire. So far more than 50 have died and 10 others are ailing, with some of them currently hospitalised,” said Mr Yoakim Kuraru, one of the claimants.
Mr Kuraru said the affected community would not allow the foreign soldiers to continue training at the privately owned Lolldaiga Conservancy until the compensation claims are settled.
“We have learnt new troops are back to the same training grounds at a time we are suffering illnesses and increased human/wildlife conflict. Our demands are that they should not be allowed to continue training until this issue is sorted out to the satisfaction of the community,” said Mr Kuraru.
Another claimant Ms Veronica Njeri said they have been suffering for two years now and wondered why new rules and procedures were being introduced now.
“It is unfair for the British soldiers to come back to train at Lolldaiga without first settling the compensation claims. We shall resist their bid to continue training since they will still use toxic chemicals and this is being insensitive on their part,” said Ms Njeri.