At least 29 in Kenya dead after villagers, gang members clash

Residents angry over extortion, official says

By Tom Odula
Associated Press / April 22, 2009
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GATHAITHI, Kenya - Villagers in central Kenya clashed with an outlawed criminal gang using machetes, axes and clubs, killing at least 29 people and leaving streets stained with blood, police said yesterday.

Residents near the town of Karatina fought Mungiki members overnight because the gang had been extorting money from them, police spokesman Charles Owino said.

"The majority of the dead are Mungiki members," he said.

At least three others were seriously wounded. Police arrested 37 people, police spokesman Eric Kiraithe said. Police also seized machetes, axes, and clubs from the suspects.

President Mwai Kibaki and a government-appointed human rights body called for an investigation.

The Mungiki emerged in the 1990s, inspired by the 1950s Mau Mau rebellion against British rule, and the gang has been linked to extortion, murder and political violence. The group is believed to have thousands of followers, drawn from the Kikuyu, Kenya's largest tribe and the dominant force in the country's politics and business.

Kenya is riven by ethnic loyalties, but the overnight violence in central Kenya seems to involve only members of Kenya's biggest tribe, the Kikuyu. The area where the clashes took place is populated mainly by the Kikuyu, and Mungiki members are from the same tribe.

In the village of Gathaithi, where the attacks took place overnight, the scene was eerily quiet yesterday. Shops were shuttered and women milled around under the midday sun.

Mary Maina, 45, a mother of four, said a mob came for her husband, Stephen Waweru, just after midnight. She insisted he was a stonemason and not a Mungiki member.

One member of the Mungiki, Ephantus Mwangi, crouched in the bushes near a police roadblock about 18 miles from Gathaithi, watching the road anxiously.

He said hundreds of young men and policemen had come into Gathaithi on Monday night looking for Mungiki members, and he expected a second wave of attacks. Two of his colleagues had been shot and were hiding elsewhere in the bushes trying to recover, he said.

Kiraithe urged members of the public to stop "using criminal violence to resist crime."

But one Mungiki member said police were part of the problem.

She told the AP that the Mungiki had been extorting money from businesses in the area with the full knowledge of the police until last week, when police switched sides and backed residents who then lynched gang members. She spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Kiraithe, the police spokesman, said Mungiki members were "trying to justify crime by mudslinging."