Monday, January 28, 2008

Kikuyu gang burns 20 Luos in a house

Ethnically driven violence intensified in Kenya on Sunday, and police officials said at least 19 people, including 11 children, were burned to death in a house by a mob.

The country seems to be becoming increasingly unhinged, with even the Kenyan military, deployed for the first time, unable to stop the wave of revenge killings. More than 100 people have been killed in the past four days, many of them shot with arrows, burned or hacked with machetes. It is some of the worst fighting since a disputed election in December ignited long-simmering tensions that have so far claimed at least 750 lives. The fighting appeared to be spreading Sunday across the Rift Valley region, a particularly picturesque part of Kenya known more for its game parks and fancy lodges.

The Kenyan government is now threatening to arrest top opposition leaders on suspicion of orchestrating the bloodshed, but opposition leaders are in turn accusing the government of backing criminal gangs. According to police officials in the Rift Valley town of Naivasha, fighting erupted Sunday between gangs of Kikuyus and Luos, two of Kenya's biggest ethnic groups, who have clashed across the country since the election. Witnesses said that mobs threw flaming tires and mountains of rocks into the streets to block police officers from entering certain neighborhoods. The mobs then went house to house, looking for certain people.

Grace Kakai, a police commander in Naivasha, said a large crowd of Kikuyus chased a group of Luos through a slum, trapped them in a house, blocked the doors and set the house afire. The police found 19 bodies huddled in one room, and Kakai said some of the children's bodies were so badly burned they could not be identified. "All I can say is that they were school age," she said. The incident was similar to one on Jan. 1, when up to 50 women and children seeking shelter in a church in another Rift Valley town were burned to death by a mob. The victims in that case were mostly Kikuyus, and Kikuyus across the country seem to have been attacked more than any other group.

In the past few days, many Kikuyus have organized into militias, saying that they are now ready for revenge. "The situation is very bad," Kakai said. "People are fighting each other and trying to drive them out of the area. We have to evacuate people." Thousands of families are streaming out of Naivasha, Nakuru, Molo, Eldoret and other towns across the Rift Valley. The region is home to supporters of both Mwai Kibaki, Kenya's illegitimate president and Raila Odinga, the top opposition leader, and the site of historic land disputes between members of rival ethnic groups. Kibaki is a Kikuyu and Odinga is a Luo, and the disputed election, in which Kibaki was declared the winner by a narrow margin despite widespread evidence of vote rigging, set off the ethnically driven violence.

The Kenya of today is almost unrecognizable to the Kenya that until recently was celebrated as one of the most stable and promising countries on the African continent. On Sunday night, local television stations showed menacing young men brandishing machetes and iron bars at road blocks along one of the country's busiest highways. The men hurled rocks at buses, with one large bus run off the road, as police officers stood by. The Kenyan army was assigned early this month to help evacuate people from conflict zones, but on Friday, for the first time, soldiers were ordered to intervene between warring groups. That did not seem to make much of a difference, and witnesses said the soldiers had been as ineffective as the police.

A dusk-to-dawn curfew has been imposed in several Rift Valley towns, including Naivasha and Nakuru, but witnesses said the violence continued to rage in the countryside with bands of armed men burning down huts and attacking ethnic rivals with impunity. Many Kenyans have said the most distressing aspect is that the opposing politicians, instead of cooperating to stop the bloodshed, continue to bicker over who started it. That is exactly what happened on Sunday after news of the Naivasha killings spread. Salim Lone, Odinga's spokesman, sent out a cellphone message calling the killings "ghastly" and saying that they were the work of criminal gangs backed by police officers and "part of a well orchestrated plan of terror."

"The government is doing this to try to influence mediation efforts," the message said, referring to the continuing but so far fruitless negotiations led by Kofi Annan, the former secretary general of the United Nations. "After stealing the elections from Kenyans, Kibaki now wishes to deny them justice and peace."

Alfred Nganga Mutua, the government spokesman, called the accusations "ridiculous." "What is really happening is a continuation of the ethnic cleansing that Raila's people are doing to kill the president's people," he said. Mutua said the violence would stop "when we indict the leaders responsible for this." "We are working on indictments," he said Sunday night. "That will happen very soon."

Western diplomats have said that there is a debate raging within Kibaki's inner circle about the wisdom of arresting top opposition figures, with some advisers pushing for it, while others fear the violence would only get worse if the leaders were jailed because their supporters would go on an even more intense rampage.

Kenyan newspapers reflected the gloom on Sunday. "For the umpteenth time, we again ask President Kibaki and Orange Democratic Movement leader Raila Odinga to work for peace, truth and justice," said an editorial in The Sunday Standard. "Kenya has bled enough."


Acolyte said...

Someone sent me the picture of the burnt corpses, let's just say it makes it hard for you to love your brothers in Central after looking at that picture.
Kibaki needs to rise up and do something about this instead of hiding his head in the sand thinking it will go away.

Amkeni Ndugu Zetu! said...

Hello Acolyte. Thank you for being part of this struggle to liberate Kenya from the clutches of dictatorship and death merchants. Could you mail the pictures to, and we can post them here for the whole world to see how shamelessly the government is killing Kenyans. Thank you.