Kenya World-Class Runners Accused of Fueling Violence

Human rights group says runner Lukas Sang may have died while leading a militia.

ByABC News
February 26, 2008, 10:52 AM

Feb. 26, 2008— -- Some of Kenya's world-class runners are helping to fuel, fund and even direct some of the country's deadly ethnic violence, according to a respected human rights group.

In a new report, "Kenya in Crisis," the International Crisis Group (ICG) alleges that many of the most decorated runners have military backgrounds which they have used for "training and sometimes commanding the raiders."

The death last month of former Olympian Lukas Sang, a sprinter who represented Kenya in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics, was initially reported as one more tragic casualty of the violence that has swept the country since last December's elections. But the ICG says that many of the accounts it documented suggest that Sang, an ex-army corporal, actually died while commanding one of the militias.

In other cases, the ICG says the runners have helped to finance ethnic raiding to further their own economic and tribal interests.

"The athletes have made fortunes from competing in international track and field events and have transformed some of the depressed and sleepy rural villages in theregion by investing in farmland and other real estate," says the report. It alleges that economic interests and tribal loyalty is the driving force behind this support. "Themotivation for giving the raiders cash and transport is said to be partly economic. They allegedly want the Kikuyus evicted so they can take their farms and property."

Athletics Kenya, the governing board that manages Kenyan athletes representing the country, calls the ICG's allegations "outrageous."

"Our athletes have brought a lot of fame to this country," David Okeyo, the secretary general of Athletics Kenya told ABC News. "These allegations are not true unless proved so."

At least 1,000 Kenyans have been killed and close to half a million have been displaced since fighting broke out between ethnic groups in the country. The Rift Valley, home to the Kalenjin tribe of which many athletes hail, has been the epicenter for most of the violence. Kalenjin militias have targeted members of President Mwai Kibaki's tribe, the Kikuyus, by burning them alive in churches, burning down thousands of homes and driving hundreds of thousands away from the Rift Valley.