Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [28 June],

Hon. Members: Object.


Asylum Seekers (Everton)

10.16 pm

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside): I present this petition on behalf of 378 Christians in Anglican and Catholic churches in the north Liverpool deanery who wish to register their concern about poor conditions and the atmosphere of fear and oppression in two tower blocks in Everton, Liverpool—Landmark and Inn on the Park—in which asylum seekers are housed.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

18 Jul 2001 : Column 393

British Bases (Kenya)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn—[Jim Fitzpatrick.]

10.17 pm

Mr. Martin Caton (Gower): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the issue of civilian casualties at British military training areas in Kenya. I am particularly pleased to be able to do so before the summer recess, as this is an important matter and one about which I know there is growing public concern throughout the country.

In introducing this debate, I cannot help but cast my mind back three years to the last Parliament when we passed the Landmines Act 1998, and I can still remember the enormous pride that I felt as a new Back Bencher at the fact that our Government were demonstrating clear moral leadership in the world and making an eloquent statement about the value that they put on human life and well-being not just in our own country but throughout the world.

I know that during our debates on that Bill, I was not alone among Members of Parliament on both sides of the House in having in mind the heart-rending pictures that we had, seen in our newspapers and on our television screens as the campaign for that legislation developed, of young children killed and terribly maimed by anti-personnel mines . All too often, because terrible and sad conflicts have taken place on the African continent in recent years, those pictures were of African children—the innocent victims of current and historic wars in their home countries.

It was those pictures that came back to me just over a fortnight ago when I listened to a "You and Yours" radio programme about people in Kenya—mostly children—being killed, disabled and injured by unexploded munitions on military training grounds used by the British Army in the central part of that country.

The Observer of the same weekend carried a full-page article by Kamal Ahmed headed "Britain's secret killing fields", which provided its own specific and terrible images both visual and verbal that told the story of individual and family tragedies that resulted from, in most cases, children and young people happening on artillery shells or other ordnance which had failed to explode when initially fired and which had never been collected or cleared.

Since then, I have done some research and read a lot more personal case studies from people who live in the regions in which the two military training areas on which I wish to focus are set. I found the stories extremely moving, very distressing and quite shaming. I want to put some cases on the record this evening because it is important to keep the real human consequences of our actions—or inaction—at the centre of the debate. That can be lost sometimes if we deal only in statistics, history and geography.

First, to set the scene, I need to explain that the areas that I am talking about in Kenya are Archer's Post, near the Shaba game reserve, predominantly the tribal lands of the Samburu, and Dol Dol, close to the town of Nanyuki, mostly Masai lands in the shadow of Mount Kenya. Both areas have been used by the British Army, but not exclusively, for more than 50 years. I cannot prove that the examples that I shall cite involve the victims of British

18 Jul 2001 : Column 394

ordnance, but I will try to show that there is every likelihood that they do. There is every reason to believe that innocent civilians have been killed or crippled by British munitions and that that has happened ever since our Army started to use Kenyan training areas more than 20 years before independence was achieved in 1967.

I have read of specific cases dating back to 1979—for example, that of Lemura Kapisi Ole Kipese, who one afternoon in August that year was grazing his father's livestock when he saw an oval object with a spring attached to the end. When he tried to pick it up, the spring snapped and it dropped to the ground. The next thing he knew, he was in hospital in excruciating pain. He is still disabled. He says, "Since the poisonous bits of the explosive lodged in the lower parts of my body, my left leg had to be amputated. Besides, I lost the use of both arms, which were left paralysed."

In the same year, Swaili Mpopwoki was even unluckier. An object that she picked up and then threw down blew her to smithereens. Her brother described the consequences, "Shrapnel lodged in her breast while pieces of metal hit her face making her blind and badly disfigured. She eventually died of her wounds."

Moving forward 20 years, things do not seem to have changed very much. In September 1999, Peter Mwangi, a 14-year-old, took home what he thought was a metal stone. He hit it with a hammer, but it would not break, so he threw it into a fire and it exploded. He and three siblings were almost killed and one of them lost a leg. A nurse at Wamba hospital—the local hospital that deals with casualties from Archer's Post—described the condition of Mowli Lmolian Lekorian, when he was brought in, saying, "He was very badly injured. The scull was almost out; the leg, the abdomen and the eyes also." I shall not go on, but I could; there are many individual and family stories such as those. On average six children a year are killed or maimed by unexploded ordnance—unexploded, that is, until the children find it.

So who is responsible? Perhaps the first question is whose bombs and shells are doing the damage. The Kenyan, and once or twice, the American, armies have trained in those areas, but all the available evidence suggests that the British Army has been by far the most significant user of those training areas. The United Kingdom sends 3,000 to 3,500 soldiers to Kenya in any one year. Their use of artillery and mortars is now confined predominantly to the flatter areas of the Archer's Post range. That part of the country is home to the Samburu tribe, who are pasturalists—nomadic people moving to wherever there is good grazing. I am informed that around 20,000 of them live in the Archer's Post range area for part of the year.

Local people are sure that Dol Dol used to be exploited for similar heavy artillery manoeuvres in support of infantry training until some years ago, although the Ministry of Defence has informed me that it has no record of that taking place. It is agreed that the area has been restricted to the use of lighter weaponry in recent times. However, there is some evidence of relatively new white phosphorous bomb rounds being found on the range. In any case, other unexploded ordnance—perhaps from years ago—remains at Dol Dol, which is in the Masai tribal lands. The Masai are again, of course, a nomadic pasturalist people, and thousands of them live in the area.

18 Jul 2001 : Column 395

Incidents that cause the sort of injuries that I have described mostly involve children herding the family animals. They come across the bombs and pick them up. A significant proportion of the ordnance is still dangerous and, for the unlucky ones, the bombs blow up, killing, maiming and burning them. In one incident, a child was evaporated because the explosion was so intense. We know that since 1940 at least 55 people have been killed and 101 injured in the Archer's Post and Dol Dol areas. The actual figures are estimated to be two or three times higher because many of the victims and their families are too scared of the Government to raise the issue.

We know that the British Army was in charge of the Archer's Post range until independence, by which time there had already been many deaths and injuries, and unexploded ordnance was left uncleared. Since 1991, the Kenyan army, lacking resources, has not had the capacity to use the range to any significant extent, so for 30 of the last 57 years, almost all the bombs and shells fired have been British. Evidence suggests that even in the 1970s and 1980s, the British used far more ammunition than did the Kenyans. Throughout the entire period, injuries and deaths among local people have continued.

Apart from the proportion of range times and the overall quantities of ammunition used by our Army, there is another reason to believe that our ordnance is responsible for a high percentage of the injuries. I refer to the way in which we use the ranges, particularly Archer's Post, compared with the methods used by the Kenyan army. There is a big difference. The British Army trains its soldiers in combat conditions that are as realistic as possible, so our artillery and mortars are aimed just ahead of where the soldiers are training. That means that the munitions land, and mostly explode, in the flatter areas of the range where, if they do not blow up, they are more likely to be found by the children of the nomadic tribes. When it could afford to test its artillery, the Kenyan army fired into the hills, where there have been no reports of accidents to date.

A preliminary report by David Taylor, a leading expert on unexploded ordnance, was commissioned by solicitors representing the victims and their families. It highlighted the fact that the Ministry of Defence accepts that, owing to those differing modes of operation, it left more bombs on site in low-lying areas than the Kenyan army is likely to have done. Taylor states that some and possibly all of the unexploded ordnance encountered is of British origin and would have been used by the British Army in live firing exercises. The implication is that British munitions were responsible for a significant proportion, and possibly all, of the deaths and injuries caused by unexploded ordnance in the Archer's Post and Dol Dol areas.

That leads us to the next question. Is the British Army doing everything that it can to prevent children from being blown to bits when they follow their parents' cattle or simply play in those areas? Are they kept out of the area during training and afterwards, when clearance is under way? Are the unexploded shells and bombs properly cleared after the training sessions?

Next Section

IndexHome Page