Saturday, January 26, 2008

Today's Headlines - Sat 1/26/2008

Tribal Gangs Clash In Kenyan Town

Published: January 26, 2008
Filed at 9:40 a.m. ET

NAKURU, Kenya (Reuters) - Kenyan police battled on Saturday to halt clashes between tribal gangs wielding machetes, spears and bows and arrows that have killed at least 27 people in the western town of Nakuru since Thursday, witnesses said.

Burnt bodies piled up and gunshots rang out in the Rift Valley provincial capital, which had previously been spared the chaos that has killed some 700 people across Kenya since the disputed re-election of President Mwai Kibaki in December.

What began as a political stand-off has evolved into a settling of scores between rival tribes in the east African nation, one of the continent's most promising economies, whose peaceful image has been shattered by the bloodshed.

"There is nothing we can do. All those who are fanning the violence are staying comfortably in their luxury homes while we burn," said Nakuru resident Urunga Maina, who rushed his nephew to hospital after he was hacked by a machete-wielding mob.

"We are being used as sacrificial lambs," Maina told Reuters. "What matters is that the politicians take what they want. They don't care about the wananchi (ordinary people)."

The fighting has prompted the first army deployment since Kenya's crisis erupted and undermined hopes of a solution after Kibaki met his rival Raila Odinga on Thursday in their first talks since the troubles began. Odinga says the vote was rigged.

The latest clashes pitted members of Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe against Luos and Kalenjins who backed Odinga -- and looked to have largely caught the security forces in Nakuru unawares.

More than 100 wounded were admitted at the hospital. One man had an arrow lodged in his head. A doctor there said he had recorded nine bodies, all with deep machete wounds.

At the Nakuru morgue, relatives wept as police unloaded another 16 charred corpses from a truck. Two more people were stoned to death by gangs at the bus station.

"We've taken the bodies and chased the thugs from here," said Ephantus Kiura, Rift Valley assistant police commissioner, after officers fired shots to disperse people from the scene.

The authorities had imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew to try to contain pitched battles between tribal gangs, but hostile youths armed with crude weapons set up multiple roadblocks around town.

Elsewhere in the Rift Valley, police said on Saturday that two men were hacked to death overnight in Naivasha.

Benson Waliaula, 36, a security guard at a bank in the town, said he saw Kibaki supporters chase down one man and kill him.

"They tore his clothes off first then killed him with blows of a panga (machete). It took him some time to die. The police were just watching. There was nothing they could do," he said.

Witnesses said the Nakuru police mostly stayed in their stations on Friday, apparently unsure how to contain the chaos.

Morris Ouma, a 25-year-old trader, told Reuters he had taken part in the fighting. "I didn't feel good about it, but they are killing our people. What shall we do?" he asked.

The latest wave of violence followed the first direct discussions between Kibaki and Odinga since the troubles began, talks brokered by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who flew to another restive Rift Valley town, Molo, on Saturday.

"It may have been triggered by the electoral result, but it has evolved into something else where there is gross and systematic abuse of the rights of citizens ... and certain groups have been targeted," Annan said. "The government will have to do whatever it can to increase security."

Thursday's meeting between the two rivals had raised hopes of an end to turmoil that has forced 250,000 from their homes.

But they were dashed when Odinga's party angrily rejected Kibaki's description of himself as "duly elected" leader.

(Additional reporting by Antony Gitonga in Naivasha, Nick Tattersall and Daniel Wallis in Nairobi; Writing by Daniel Wallis and Nick Tattersall; Editing by Matthew Tostevin)

Full story from Reuters at NY Times

Annan hits out at Kenya 'abuses'

The town of Nakuru has seen some of the worst violence
Kofi Annan

Former UN head Kofi Annan has condemned "gross and systematic abuses of human rights" in Kenya, after a visit to violence-hit parts of the country.

Mr Annan said conflict may have been triggered by disputed elections, but it had evolved into "something else".

The facts had to be established and those responsible held to account, Mr Annan said on his return to Nairobi.

Dozens more deaths were reported on Saturday, with corpses bearing the marks of brutal violence.

Police brought 16 badly burnt bodies to the mortuary in Nakuru, the capital of Rift Valley province. Nine other bodies had been recovered the previous evening, reports said.

Some 15 bodies - covered in arrow wounds - were reported to have been recovered following fighting between rival communities in the district of Molo.

Mr Annan - in Kenya to mediate attempts for a political solution - was flown over Nakuru on Saturday as part of a tour that also included visits to Eldoret and Molo.

Hospital staff in Nakuru said they had received the bodies of nine more people, hacked by machetes or killed by arrows.

Earlier the authorities had imposed an overnight curfew across the city in the wake of renewed inter-ethnic conflict.

Rival gangs of young men battled with machetes, metal bars, bows and arrows, while thick smoke billowed up from burning buildings.

The violence came despite hopes of progress after President Mwai Kibaki met opposition leader Raila Odinga for the first time on Thursday since December's disputed polls.

Burnt forests
Mr Annan set off from Nairobi shortly after first light on Saturday to see for himself some of the destruction and human misery caused by more than three weeks of violence.

He visited some of the thousands of people in Eldoret whose homes have been destroyed or who moved to the town to try to find shelter.

The former UN chief also boarded a helicopter to fly to Molo district where many have been killed.

Speaking in the capital, Nairobi, Mr Annan said: "What we saw was rather tragic. We visited several IDP [internally displaced persons] camps, we saw people pushed from their homes, from their farms, grandmothers, children, families uprooted.

"And I think it is important that all Kenyans respond with sympathy and understanding, and not try to revenge."

He also said there needed to be fundamental changes to Kenya's institutions to prevent a repetition.

"We cannot accept that periodically, every five years or so, this sort of incident takes place and no-one is held to account. Impunity cannot be allowed to stand," Mr Annan added.

Tanzania's former President, Benjamin Mkapa, travelling with Mr Annan, said: "The political crisis in the country [has caused] a state of agony and despair. We console the people."

There has been sporadic gunfire in Nakuru on Saturday.

The BBC's Adam Mynott says that some protesters erected a barricade across the main road and many homes have been burnt in the town.

Hundreds of people have sought refuge in churches or friends' homes.

There are also reports of truckloads of many young men being moved overnight to a village on the outskirts of the town.

The unrest triggered by the election on 27 December has driven 250,000 people from their homes. Mr Odinga says he was robbed of the presidency.

Full story from BBC

Mob Violence Is Tearing Kenya Apart

Published: January 27, 2008

NAKURU, Kenya — Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, may seem calm, but anarchy reigns just two hours away. In Nakuru, furious mobs rule the streets, burning homes, brutalizing people and expelling anyone not in their ethnic group, all with complete impunity.

On Saturday, hundreds of men prowled a section of the city with six-foot iron bars, poisoned swords, clubs, knives and crude circumcision tools. Boys carried gladiator-style shields and women strutted around with sharpened sticks.

The police were nowhere to be found. Even the locals were shocked.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said David Macharia, a bus driver.

One month after a deeply flawed election, Kenya, despite international pressure on its leaders to compromise and stop the killings, is tearing itself apart along ethnic lines.

Nakuru, the biggest town in the beautiful but deeply troubled Rift Valley, is the scene of a mass migration now moving in two directions. Luos are headed west, Kikuyus are headed east, and packed buses with mattresses strapped on top pass each other in the road with the bewildered children of the two ethnic groups staring out the windows at each other.

In the past 10 days, dozens of people have been killed in Molo, Narok, Kipkelion, Kuresoi, and now Nakuru, a tourist gateway which until a few days ago was considered safe.

In many places, Kenya seems to be sliding back toward the chaos that exploded on Dec. 30, when election results were announced and Kenya’s president,
Mwai Kibaki, was declared the winner over Raila Odinga, the top opposition leader, despite widespread evidence of vote rigging.

The tinder was all there, even before the voting started. There were historic grievances over land and deep-seated ethnic tensions, with many ethnic groups resenting the Kikuyus, Mr. Kibaki’s group, because they have been the most prosperous for years.

The disputed election essentially served as the spark, and opposition supporters across Kenya vented their rage over many issues toward Kikuyus and other ethnic groups thought to have supported Mr. Kibaki.

In the Rift Valley, local elders organized young men to raid Kikuyu areas and kill people in a bid to drive the Kikuyus off their land. It worked, for the most part, and over the past month, tens of thousands of Kikuyus have fled.

More than 650 people, many of them Kikuyus, have been killed.

Many of the attackers are widely believed to be members of the Luo and Kalenjin ethnic groups.

What is happening now in Nakuru seems to be payback.

On Thursday night, witnesses and participants said that bands of Kikuyu men armed themselves and began [attacking? killing? verb missing] Luos and Kalenjins.

Paul Karanja, a Kikuyu shopkeeper in Nakuru, explained it this way: “We had been so patient. For weeks we had watched all the buses and trucks taking people out of the Rift Valley, and we had seen so many of our people lose everything they owned. Enough was enough.”

In a Nakuru neighborhood called Free Area, hundreds of Kikuyu men burned down homes and businesses belonging to Luos, Mr. Odinga’s ethnic group. The Luos who refused to leave were badly beaten, and sometimes worse.

According to witnesses, a Kikuyu mob forcibly circumcised a Luo man who later bled to death. Circumcision is an important rite of passage for Kikuyus but is not widely practiced among Luos.

The Luos and the Kalenjins, who have been aligned throughout the post-election period, then counterattacked, and the result was a citywide melee with hundreds wounded and as many as 50 people killed

By Friday night, the Kenyan military was deployed for the first time to intervene. Local authorities also slapped a dusk-to-dawn curfew on Nakuru, another first.

Many people in Free Area, which is now almost totally Kikuyu, say it will be difficult to make peace.

“We’re angry and they’re angry,” said John Maina, a stocky butcher, whose weapon of choice on Saturday was a 3-foot-long table leg with exposed screws.

This is the reality across much of Kenya, and it seems to be nothing short of ethnic cleansing.

Mobs in Eldoret, Kisumu, Kakamega, Burnt Forest and countless other areas, including some of the biggest slums in Nairobi, have driven out people from opposing ethnic groups.

Many neighborhoods that used to be mixed are now ethnically homogeneous.

Kofi Annan, the former secretary general of the United Nations, visited the Rift Valley on Saturday. He called it “nerve-racking.”

“We saw people pushed from their homes and farms, grandmothers, children and families uprooted,” said Mr. Annan, who is in Kenya trying to broker negotiations between Mr. Kibaki and Mr. Odinga.

He called for the Kenyan government to investigate the perpetrators and increase security.

On Saturday, Kenyan soldiers in Free Area escorted Luos back to their smoldering homes and stood guard with their assault rifles as the people collected whatever they could salvage before leaving.

Many Luos said they had no choice but to go to far western Kenya, the traditional Luo homeland, just as many Kikuyus who have been displaced said they would resettle in the highlands east of Nakuru, their traditional homeland.

Mr. Macharia, the bus driver, who is Kikuyu, conceded that many Kikuyus were feeling vengeful. But that, he said, doesn’t mean they actually want to fight. “I saw it myself,” he said. “The elders called ‘Charge!’ but not all the boys charged.”

Still, enough did charge that the Luos who used to live in Free Area were not taking any chances. On Saturday afternoon, hundreds of people carrying trunks on their heads and bags of blankets streamed toward a government office that was protected by a few soldiers.

Nancy Aloo, a Luo, was guiding four frightened young children.

“God made all of us,” Ms. Aloo said. “We need his help.”

Full story from NY Times

Red Cross Sending Medical Supplies to Treat Wounded in Kenya

By Lisa Schlein Geneva
26 January 2008

The International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC, says it has sent enough medical supplies to Kenya's Nakuru Provincial Hospital to treat at least 100 weapon-wounded patients. This shipment of surgical and other supplies comes as ethnic fighting escalates in the east African nation's Western Rift Valley Province. Lisa Schlein reports from ICRC headquarters in Geneva.

Angry members of the Luo tribe carry another Luo after he was attacked by a Kikuyu crowd during ethnic clashes in the central Kenyan town of Nakuru, 25 Jan 2008

The recent flare-up of ethnic tension and fighting in Nakuru, the Provincial capital of the Rift Valley has reportedly left at least 16 people dead. Many people have been wounded in the melee. And the International Committee of the Red Cross says an increasing number of casualties is arriving at the hospital.

ICRC Spokesman Marcel Izard says his agency has sent enough medical and surgical supplies to Nakuru Provincial Hospital to enable the staff to cope with the growing needs.

He says the Red Cross has not sent any doctors to Nakuru because violence only recently erupted there. But, he says, a surgical team that had been working in the Rift Valley town of Eldoret is now on standby and could be quickly sent to Nakuru if necessary.

"We had started to work from the first of January in Eldoret, which was the focal point of violence following the results of the elections," he said. "Now the team that worked in Eldoret has finished its mission after three weeks because things have calmed down in this part of the country. Now, in Nakuru things are getting bad now. That is the reason we have offered our help to the Kenyan government and we have told them if they need our surgical team there, we would look into this matter and see how we can respond."

[Photo] Displaced Kenyan women, who just received food and blankets from a Netherlands-based NGO, are seen in Nairobi, Kenya, 22 Jan. 2008

About 250,000 people have been displaced in Kenya following disputed election results at the end of December. The first waves of ethnic violence erupted in Eldoret and in the slums of the capital Nairobi. The situation has calmed down in those areas and has now moved to Nakuru.

Izard says the Red Cross is closely watching events to see whether the fighting prompts people to flee their homes.

He says many people have gone to their ancestral lands, because they feel safer living among their own tribal groups.

"People are on the move constantly," he added. "So, this is also a difficulty then to assist them if they are not staying in one place. So, we really cannot speculate what will happen next. We have to obviously be vigilant and see how best we can assist those affected by the recent violence."

Izard says children sometimes get left behind when people flee their homes in panic. He says the Red Cross helps trace the families of these unaccompanied children. He notes over 120 children so far have been reunited with their parents and another 30 cases remain to be resolved.

Besides providing surgical and medical supplies to the hospitals, he says the Red Cross also distributes food, clean water and essential household items to people affected by the violence.

Full story from Voice of America

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