Monday, January 28, 2008

Weekend of savagery claims 90 lives

In what is now turning out to be the beginnings of a civil war, 90 people were killed in a weekend of bloodletting as violence shifted from Nairobi to Rift Valley. There are also reports of clashes as far off as Oyugis. And in a chilling episode, at least 16 people — most of them women and children — were burnt to death in a house torched by attackers in Naivasha.

Meanwhile, the Kofi Annan-led team intensified efforts to find a solution to the crisis that is dangerously pushing the country towards civil war. Last night, the mediation team was expected to release the terms of engagement for the talks. After meeting with the team of African Union eminent persons yesterday, ODM said it was hopeful of progress. On Sunday evening, Annan met President Kibaki and briefed him on his visit to the violence-hit areas. After yesterday’s hour-long meeting with Annan, ODM deputy leader, Musalia Mudavadi, said: "We believe some measure of progress is imminent. We want a lasting solution." If the terms of engagement are agreeable to both sides, ODM and President Kibaki’s side will then proceed to appoint a team of three negotiators each and one additional member, who will act as the liaison between the warring parties.

In yesterday’s incident only comparable to that visited on victims sheltering at an Eldoret Church early this month, charred remains of the 16 victims were crammed in a small, two-room house, where — according to witnesses — they had locked themselves up to escape the wrath of bloodthirsty youths. "When the attacks started, youths burnt the house, trapping them inside," a resident said. Another four were hacked to death as they fled from the marauding gangs targeting members of one community. Others were killed and lynched after being fished out of public service vehicles on account of their tribe. As usual, the police watched the unfolding chaos helplessly as Nairobi was temporarily cut-off from western Kenya. Independent reports put the death toll in Naivasha at more than 20, but police confirmed only 10. The number could be higher as several people were reported missing.

In Nakuru, the death toll hit 60, with the number expected to rise as rival groups continued to clash. Witnesses said some of the attackers, believed to be members of the proscribed Mungiki sect, were armed with guns and wore police uniforms. Fifty-five bodies are lying at the Nakuru Municipal Mortuary with five more yet to be collected from the town’s estates. The mortuary, with a capacity of 42, was stretched to the limit as bodies streamed in. Unconfirmed reports said a military chopper patrolling the town fired gunshots at Kwa Rhonda and Ng’ambo estates to scare away marauding youths torching houses. However, Nakuru deputy OCPD, Mathew Gwiyo, said military officers fired shots in Bahati of Nakuru North District to disperse youths armed with pangas, bows and arrows who were torching houses.

As the violence was systematically unfolding, MPs from central Kenya told President Kibaki to take charge of and restore peace and order in clash-torn areas. Tigania East MP, Peter Munya, who led the MPs in making the call, said: "President Kibaki must take charge now and stop the killings of innocent people in Rift Valley. We demand that perpetrators be brought to book." They said the Government had not done enough to protect lives and property being destroyed by gangs.

Renowned scholar, Prof Ali Mazrui, said the international community should not relent and called on the African Union and the Commonwealth to suspend Kenya from their ranks. "The AU has been more of an apologist for President Mugabe of Zimbabwe than a correction officer," Mazrui, who is also the Chancellor of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, said.

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