Sect 'hired' for Kenyan violence

The Australian/March 7, 2008

The Kenyan Government was accused yesterday of recruiting a banned militia group to target rival tribespeople in post-election violence that resulted in the deaths of more than 1500 people.

As a peace deal brokered by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan faced its first test last night before a divided parliament, the BBC quoted sources alleging meetings were held at the official residence of President Mwai Kibaki between members of the notorious Mungiki sect and the Government.

The aim, the BBC said, was to hire the militia to protect Mr Kibaki's Kikuyu community in the Rift Valley.

The Government dismissed the allegations as "preposterous" yesterday.

"No such meetings took place at State House or any government office," spokesman Alfred Mutua told the BBC.

Mr Mutua said the Government had cracked down on the Mungiki sect over the past year and had arrested their leaders. "There's no way the President or any government official would meet openly or even in darkness with the Mungiki," Mr Mutua said.

The Kenyan parliament was due to open last night, with the first order of business the passing of laws necessary to enshrine a power-sharing deal reached between Mr Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga last week.

The pact was designed to end turmoil after Mr Kibaki's disputed re-election at a December 27 vote, which ignited looting, riots and politically tinged ethnic clashes that claimed 1500 lives and displaced 300,000 people.

In what became the country's darkest period since independence from Britain in 1963, the crisis harmed Kenya's reputation as one of Africa's most stablenations and damaged a booming economy anchored in tourism and regional trade.

It also unveiled simmering rifts over wealth, power and tribe that have existed since the colonial era, often exacerbated by politicians angling for supremacy for their own people from among Kenya's 42 different ethnic groups.

The BBC reported yesterday that the source of allegations of state-sanctioned violence was a member of the Kikuyu tribe who had gone into hiding after receiving death threats.

"Three members of the gang met at State House ... and after the elections and the violence, the militias were called again and were given a duty to defend the Kikuyu in the Rift Valley and they were there in numbers," he said.

The Rift Valley was the scene of some of the worst violence carried out by machete-wielding gangs. Witnesses have told of non-Kikuyu homes being marked to be attacked by gangs.

Sources within the Mungiki told the BBC that a renegade part of the militia was behind the violence.

A policeman who was on duty at the time of the violence said he, too, saw signs of state complicity. He alleged that shortly before the violence in Nakuru, police officers were ordered not to stop a convoy of minibus taxis, called "matatus", packed with men when they arrived at police checkpoints.

But Mr Mutua said the Government ordered the military to deal swiftly with the Kikuyu youth who had tried to take the law into their own hands.

The allegations appear to support concerns raised by the International Crisis Group of pre-planned violence on both sides of the political fence.

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