Post-vote riots in Kenya turn into tribal warfare

Mob burns church, killing 35 who had fled violence

January 02, 2008|By Robyn Dixon | Robyn Dixon,LOS ANGELES TIMES

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Post-election riots in Kenya descended into savage tribal killings yesterday as a mob burned a church where families had taken shelter from the violence, killing at least 35 people, witnesses reported. Many of the victims were children.

The burning of the church in Eldoret followed the killings overnight of 18 people in the town about 150 miles northwest of Nairobi. Some of the victims reportedly had their heads hacked off. A police officer also was killed.

Witnesses reported revenge killings and pitched battles between mobs from rival tribes armed with machetes called pangas or with bows and arrows.

"They're armed with pangas, and when one group kills three people, the other group also kills three people. When one burns three houses, the other burns three houses. The situation has really deteriorated," Ken Wafula, a local human rights activist, said of the tribal clashes.

"There is violence in all parts of town," said Kikechi Biketi, Eldoret correspondent for the Standard daily newspaper. "Houses have been burned indiscriminately in most parts of Eldoret. They're burning tires in the roads. There's no transport. You can't move. The situation is very bad."

Eldoret police estimated about 100 had died in the town in the past four days, as opposition supporters rampaged there and elsewhere in Kenya, furious over allegations of ballot-rigging in last week's presidential elections. Police reported 170 dead across Kenya, but news agencies put the number at 200 to 270.

Tens of thousands of civilians in Eldoret had fled their homes to police compounds and church yards. Some houses sheltered dozens of terrified people.

Although the presidential candidates in Thursday's elections avoided overt tribal campaigning, which is taboo in Kenyan society, ethnic violence exploded immediately after President Mwai Kibaki was announced the winner and hastily sworn in Sunday evening.

As the violence continued yesterday, foreign diplomats in Nairobi pressed Kibaki and his rival in the election, Raila Odinga, to negotiate a political solution to stem the killings.

Increasing the pressure on Kibaki, European observers called yesterday for an independent investigation into discrepancies in the tally, reporting that the elections failed to meet democratic standards. They called for an end to violence. The United Nations called on Kenyan leaders for restraint.

Kenyans have been shocked by the level of brutality in a country that, although situated in a volatile region of Africa, normally is seen as a haven of political stability and economic prosperity.

An uneasy calm fell over many other parts of Kenya yesterday, including some of the worst-hit areas such as Kisumu in the west and the Kibera slum district of Nairobi.

But there were fears of a new explosion of violence tomorrow when Odinga plans a "million-man march" to protest the election results. Police warned that the rally would be banned, but Odinga insisted it would go ahead as planned.

Tribal tensions have simmered in Kenya since multiparty elections were reintroduced in 1992 and the country's more than 40 tribes began competing at the polls for political power and resources.

Much of the resentment has been directed at Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe, the largest ethnic group, seen by others as having dominated politics and business for decades. Kikuyus account for 22 percent of the East African nation's 37 million population.

Robyn Dixon writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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