By Duncan Miriri
NAIROBI (Reuters) -Kenyan police on Monday blocked a news conference intended to air allegations of human rights and environmental abuses by British troops in the country, hours before King Charles arrives for a four-day state visit.
Buckingham Palace has said Charles’ visit will acknowledge “painful aspects of the UK and Kenya’s shared history”. The British ruled for more than six decades before the east African nation won its independence in 1963.
The allegations in question relate to a period long after the end of colonial rule. Residents of central Kenya’s Lolldaiga area have accused a British army training unit based nearby of causing a 2021 wildfire that destroyed much of a nature reserve, leaving behind ordnance that injured locals, and being involved in the 2012 murder of a woman last seen with British soldiers.
UK authorities have promised in the past to investigate the allegations against members of the military training unit, which has about 100 permanent staff.
Before the news conference could be held at a hotel in the capital Nairobi, a lorry with at least 20 police officers and two smaller trucks blocked access to the venue, according to a Reuters reporter.
The police also gave the hotel’s management a letter that warned them not host the event, said James Mwangi, head of a human rights group supporting the alleged Lolldaiga victims.
A spokeswoman for Kenya’s national police service declined comment when contacted by Reuters.
The British High Commission in Nairobi said the policing of protests in Kenya was a matter for Kenyan authorities.
Tom Macharia, a Nairobi lawyer who represents the Lolldaiga community, said the police actions were “bad optics … If the king is genuine about this restart and resetting the relation with Kenya, he has gotten off on the wrong footing”.
A Kenyan parliamentary committee is currently investigating the allegations against the British forces.
A British soldier seemed to claim credit in 2021 on social media for starting the wildfire, which destroyed thousands of acres of a nature conservancy. The British High Commissioner at the time said she was “appalled” by the post and promised the royal military police would investigate.
The British High Commission said on Monday the fire was started accidentally and no local or community land was directly affected.
Lolldaiga residents are also angry about delays in an investigation into the 2012 death of a single mother, Agnes Wanjiru, who was last seen at a local hotel with British soldiers.
The 21-year-old, whose body was found in a hotel septic tank, had been beaten and stabbed, an inquest report by a Kenyan magistrate reported in 2019.
“This case is a priority for the UK Government, and we fully appreciate the seriousness and importance of justice for Agnes,” the British High Commission said in a statement.
“The jurisdiction for this investigation lies with the Kenyan Police Service, and the UK Government is working closely with the Government of Kenya to accelerate progress.”
(Reporting by Duncan Miriri; additional reporting by Edwin Waita and Aaron Ross; editing by Aaron Ross, Mark Heinrich, Hereward Holland and Ed Osmond)