Arusha – More than two dozen Maasai protesters appeared in a Tanzanian court on Thursday charged with murder over the death of a policeman at a demonstration over a planned conservation area that turned violent.
The courtroom in the town of Arusha was packed with Maasai for the hearing in the case, which saw prosecutors increase the number of accused to 25 from the 20 originally charged.
They also amended the charges to include both murder and conspiracy.
“All the suspects conspired to kill police and other government officers who were involved in the marking of the protected area in the district of Ngorongoro,” state lawyer Upendo Shemkole told the Arusha court.
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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 km (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.
The Maasai have accused the government of trying to force them off their land in order to organise safaris and hunting expeditions.
The pastoralists and some local lawmakers believe the demarcation will leave herders with access to 2 500 square km out of 4 000 and reduce grazing land in Loliondo.
ALSO READ | Tanzania charges Maasai with murder over policeman death
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 indigenous 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 also relocating the Maasai pastoralists from the Ngorongoro reserve, as the authorities contend that their growing population is encroaching on wildlife habitat.
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