Kenya worries about Tanzanian militia's harassment of tourists

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

A strong force of Kenya police, men from the antipoaching units, and game rangers have been patrolling the Tanzania border to stop incursions into Kenya's great Masai Mara game reserve by Tanzanians.

Specifically, they are on the lookout for Tanzanian militiamen who have been harassing and robbing foreign tourists watching and photographing game.

The Kenyans are acutely worried about the effect of the harassment on their multimillion-dollar tourist industry, which is acutely sensitive to trouble of this kind.

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After recent incidents in which armed men in the uniform of Tanzania's Jeshi La Mgambo militia unit crossed the border into Kenya's Masai Mara reserve, hijacking and robbing US and British tourists, the Kenya government sent a protest note to Tanzania.

More recently, the government sent Richard Leakey, assistant minister of natural resources and the environment, who is in charge of game parks, to the area to investigate. He said strong measures were being taken by the Kenya government to protect the area from incursions of this kind.

Late in June, an American and a British couple were attacked in the Masai Mara by armed TAnzanians, taken over the border into Tanzania, robbed of their money, cameras, clothes, shoes, and other possessions, and told to walk barefoot back to Kenya.

Earlier, a group of 10 US tourists was attacked at a tented camp in the reserve. Tanzanian armed men in uniform entered the dining tent while the tourists were having supper. They were told to lie down and ordered to surrender all their possessions, cash, cameras, clothing, suitcases, watches, and shoes.

Kenya tourist agencies and members of the government are accusing Tanzania of committing a deliberate act of sabotage against Kenya's flourishing tour industry.

These are only isolated incidents in a country where tens of thousands of tourists come every year to watch wild animals and bask on sunny Indian Ocean beaches in safety and security, after which they presumably go home to tell others how marvelous it was.

Nevertheless, if the story gets around that it is unsafe to got to parts of Kenya -- especially areas such as Masai Mara that are rich in game life -- it could have a very harmful effect on the tourist industry.

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