10 People Burned Alive in New Kenya Violence

New fears that political violence is spiralling into ethnic violence.


NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan. 28, 2008 — -- At least 10 people were burned alive Sunday as they huddled inside a house after trying to escape a gang of armed men in the Rift Valley town of Naivasha.

Their deaths were part of a weekend of ethnic violence as armed gangs of young men from President Mwai Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe unleashed a series of reprisal attacks on members of rival tribes, authorities reported. At least 60 people have been killed and thousands have been left homeless.

Witnesses say the militia, known in Kenya as the Mungiki, stormed through the previously peaceful Rift Valley towns of Nakuru and Naivasha, burning down homes and killing anyone from a rival tribe they could find. They set up roadblocks and pulled people out of cars, beating them and slashing them with machetes.

One cabdriver working in Nairobi, afraid to give his name, says even though he lives in Nakuru it's too dangerous for him to go home and check on his family. "The pressure there is high," he said. "I can't go there. It's too dangerous right now."

He says his family has contacted him terrified. "They're burning houses, all the way up to my house. There is a roadblock there," he told ABC News.

Even though he and his family are Kikuyu, the man says he is still frightened. "Right now they are just burning Kalenjins and Luos, but the Mungiki are not good people. They are hired and they will demand you give them everything you have."

The latest round of violence comes as former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has attempted to mediate between Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga. The two have disputed whether the country's presidential election held a month ago was rigged.

But what's happening in Nakuru and Naivasha is about more than politics, says Dan Juma, the acting director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission. Juma says that throughout Kenya's history, politicians have manipulated tribal tensions for their own gain.

"Once an elite is in power," he said, "the beneficiaries of that power and resources are normally the tribes and their ethnic communities."

He says that these clashes are as much about class and land as they are which politician a tribe supports.

"I think you see an element of class in this violence," Juma told ABC News. "You see an element of poor people trying to get revenge on those they feel have more than them."

The Rift Valley has a history of tribal clashes over land. During independence many Kikuyus inherited or were allowed to buy land that members of the Kalenjin tribe in the Rift Valley felt belonged to them. During the elections in 1992 and 1997 the region erupted in violence, although many people there say the result was not as harsh as these clashes, which have left hundreds of thousands in the region displaced.

Annan toured the Rift Valley, Saturday, recalling what he saw as "gross human rights violations." He says that those responsible for committing these acts need to be held accountable, a sentiment Juma shares.

"There needs to be some time of truth and a reconciliation commission for this country to heal," said Juma. "We need to find out who is responsible for these acts and those parties need to be held accountable."

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