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Human rights workers say politicians paying militias in worst of Kenyan violence

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Posted: January 12, 2008 3:13 p.m.
Updated: January 27, 2008 5:00 a.m.
    NAIROBI, Kenya — The price for burning down a home: 500 shillings, or about $8. Double that to have someone hacked to death.
    The price list comes from a leading Kenyan human rights group that says some of the worst violence in the country’s deadly disputed presidential election is the work of militias paid and directed by politicians.
    The government of President Mwai Kibaki and the opposition have traded blame for the killing and arson that followed Kibaki’s victory in the Dec. 27 election that international observers say was followed by a rigged count.
    Some of the attacks took on an ugly ethnic twist, with other tribes turning on Kibaki’s Kikuyu people.
    But the respected and independent Kenyan Human Rights Commission says there is more to it, and that it appears to involve politicians from both sides.
    It ‘‘was portrayed as some primal irate rising up of (ethnic) communities against each other,’’ commission chairwoman Muthoni Wanyeki told The Associated Press. ‘‘But our investigations indicate it seems to be very organized militia activity ... (the violence) very much seems to be directed and well organized.’’
    She pointed to the torching of a church sheltering Kikuyu, dozens of whom burned to death.
    ‘‘One group was watching the church, and then another took over,’’ Wanyeki said. ‘‘We say it’s organized because they are working in groups of 10 to 15 people and in shifts.’’
    ‘‘Their training areas have been identified, some of the people from whom they get money have been identified,’’ she said. ‘‘They are being paid 500 per burning and 1,000 per death.’’
    The information, she said, comes from about 100 monitors and a network including prominent individuals and community-based organizations who were given pre-election training in researching human rights violations.
    She said information is being compiled in a report to be published this week and given to another body, the state-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, for investigation by appropriate authorities.
    The state-funded commission, as well as a bishop and a police superintendent, agree that a lot of the violence seemed orchestrated. However, they stop short of claiming money changed hands, and both camps vying for the presidency strongly deny it.
    Gangs wielding bows and arrows, machetes and stones killed scores of people in the central Rift Valley. They set ablaze hundreds of buildings, forcing more than 100,000 people, mainly Kikuyus, from their homes and farmlands. Victims have identified their attackers as ethnic Kalenjin and members of opposition leader Raila Odinga’s Luo tribe.
    Odinga’s spokesman, Salim Lone, said the charges of payment were ‘‘wild propaganda.’’
    ‘‘I cannot categorically say that no politician is doing that (paying militias),’’ he said, but bristled at the suggestion that his party, having denounced the violence, could at the same time be fomenting it.
    Odinga says Kibaki must take the blame because the violence was ignited by his alleged theft of the election.
    Maina Kiai, chairman of the state-funded human rights body, said that in response to attacks on Kikuyu, government politicians have recruited the Mungiki, a Kikuyu gang blamed for a string of beheadings carried out in Nairobi’s slums this year.
    Kiai said the government has promised Mungiki immunity in return for protecting the Kikuyu. He said his information came from several sources including Mungiki members. In a crackdown last year, police killed dozens of alleged Mungiki.
    Government spokesman Alfred Mutua said Kiai’s charge was ‘‘preposterous. There is no truth to it.’’ He accused Kiai of being partisan and challenged him to produce evidence.
    Wanyeki, of the independent human rights group, said some Mungiki have been deployed in recent days to the troubled western towns of Eldoret, where the church was torched, and Kisumu.
    The police superintendent of Kisumu, Simon Kiragu, agreed the violence was orchestrated.
    ‘‘Of course it was organized. The trouble started not even 15 minutes after the announcement (of the election results),’’ he told the AP. ‘‘It was like a time bomb and it happened all over the country.’’
    In Eldoret, Roman Catholic Bishop Cornelius Korir said: ‘‘The way the attacks were managed seems to me very organized. ... No, it did not seem spontaneous to me. It seems it was well planned.’’
    Both Kiai and Wanyeki noted that not all violence was orchestrated. There also have been disorganized, spontaneous outbursts including ethnic attacks and looting, they said.
    Wanyeki cited reports from monitors and other sources that militias are being deployed in more areas of Kenya, and warned that ‘‘the more politicians pull their militias out of the bag, the worse the situation gets.’’
    Militias in Kenya date back to state-sponsored violence the 1990s, when then President Daniel arap Moi employed gangs from his ethnic Kalenjin group to intimidate opponents, Kiai said. Kikuyu politicians created the Mungiki to counter that force.
    During the latest election campaign, police reported finding more than 100 swords, clubs and bows and arrows in an assistant cabinet minister’s official car. The minister said he knew nothing about them.
    ———
    Associated Press writer Katy Pownall in Kisumu contributed to this report.

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