Kenya urged to declare national crisis - group

News and Press Release
Originally published
By Katie Nguyen

NAIROBI, May 25 (Reuters) - Kenya's government should declare a national crisis over an escalation in crime, violent clashes and police shootings that have killed 300 people this year, a rights group said on Friday.

In the latest incident, villagers in central Kenya found severed heads placed on poles and body parts scattered in bushes in an attack media blamed on the outlawed Mungiki sect.

With elections due in the east African country in December, many commentators fear political influence behind the violence that is tarnishing Kenya's reputation as an oasis of relative stability and prosperity in a conflict-ridden region.

"This wave of violence being witnessed is suspicious, given Kenya's sad history of clashes and tensions months prior to general elections as seen in 1992, 1997 and 2002," the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights said in a statement.

It said more 500,000 people have been uprooted since 1992, the year of the country's first multi-party elections, and that the scale of displacement caused by tribal land clashes was no different to that seen in other African wars.

"Combined with destruction of property, livestock and crops, these figures are comparable to the casualties from small-scale civil wars in Africa and warrant urgent attention from the government," the statement read.

The commission said the government should acknowledge that a national crisis exists so as to create a coordinated response to the violence among all government agencies.

The government-funded commission criticised the authorities for shifting the blame from themselves over the recent spate of killings from Mount Elgon, on the border with Uganda, to Tana River along the coast and the capital Nairobi.

It urged Internal Security Minister John Michuki and Police Commissioner Hussein Ali to improve security rather than blame the judiciary for failing to convict Mungiki suspects.

"The Commission deems the reluctance by the government ... to rein in on the perpetrators of the heinous acts and criminal groups that continue to hold helpless Kenyans at ransom as the highest level of failure of the government," it added.

Michuki has vowed to wipe out the Mungiki, which was banned in 2002 after members armed with knives and clubs killed more than 20 people in a Nairobi slum.

Many Kenyans believe the group, which has fought weeks of battles with minibus operators resisting their extortion attempts, has been supported by corrupt politicians.

The brutality of the recent mutilations sparked outrage and soul-searching in a country whose travel brochure image belies deep levels of poverty.

"Severed heads impaled on poles outside chiefs' offices, preceded by the living excision of private parts, are a throwback to medieval ghoulishness we thought we had consigned to history," commentator Salim Lone wrote in the Daily Nation.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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