Tanzania: As Maasai protesters in court over death of policeman, footage shows their community being forcefully evicted from their lands
Maasai pastoralists from northern Tanzania were taken to the town of Arusha to appear in court.On Thursday, They were charged with the murder of a police officer during a demonstration early june in the district of Ngorongoro.
The prosecutors increased the number of accused to 25 and added conspiracy to the charges.
The pastoralists and rights groups have accused the government of trying to force them off their land in Ngorongoro.
The clashes erupted on June 10 in Loliondo in the district of Ngorongoro, when Maasai herders protested against a government push to reserve 1,500 square kilometres (580 square miles) of land to create a wildlife protection area. A policeman was killed and several protesters injured.
The court case was adjourned to July 14 as investigations continue.
Forced relocation plans?
The pastoralists and some local lawmakers believe the demarcation will leave herders with access to 2,500 square kilometres out of 4,000 and reduce grazing land in Loliondo.
Last week the government warned it would tackle "illegal immigrants" in Loliondo, accusing Kenyan Maasai pastoralists of driving their livestock across the border in support of the Maasai in Tanzania.
The East African country has historically allowed native communities such as the Maasai to live within some national parks, including the Ngorongoro conservation area, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
But the government is now trying to relocating the Maasai pastoralists from the Ngorongoro reserve, as the authorities contend that their growing population is encroaching on wildlife habitat.
Mid-June, footage emerged in northern Tanzania of what appears to be members from the Maasai community being removed from the land surrounding their village.
Footage shows Tanzanian Maasai being forcefully evicted from their lands
Footage emerged in northern Tanzania of what appears to be members from the Maasai community being removed from the land surrounding their village.
The images were shot last week, a few days before the Tanzanian authorities announced that the first group of Maasai families had left the Ngorongoro Conservation Area as part of a programme of voluntary relocation in order to alleviate pressure on the local environment.
Human rights activists denounced the programme as forceful evictions.
"We are here and we are tired. We ran away, the three of us and we were ambushed by the military - I can say it was the military. They got out of their vehicles and started beating us. I personally tried to plead with them: 'My fellow Tanzanians, do not kill us. Why are you killing us? This land belongs to our grandparents", denounced a Maasai elder.
The confrontations erupted after Maasai community members noticed Tanzanian authorities marking off land reportedly for a game reserve.
Tanzanian authorities, including the tourism minister and prime minister, have said the goal for the disputed area is conservation and alleged that the growing number of Maasai and cattle on the land could put it at risk.
According to experts, the planned game reserve would take up 1,500 square kilometres of 4,000 square kilometres designated as village land, meaning up to 70,000 Maasai could be displaced.
The entire Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.