The fight was sparked when the civil society members of the leaders' committee showed up for a meeting of the committee and were denied entry. According to the source, an argument ensued between Id Badal, a civil society member, and Mawlid Ma'ane, the leader of the SAMO [Somali African Muki Organisation] faction, and this "led to a fight between the two". The fight was broken up by security personnel at the Sirikwa Hotel, where the meeting was taking place.
Later in the day, a group of men followed a prominent member of the civil society, Prof Muhammad Abdi Ghandi, to Eldoret town and "beat him up pretty badly", said the source. Ghandi was taken to the hospital but was later released.
Police were called in and arrested Mawlid Ma'ane and four of his supporters. "They spent the night in jail," the source added. Ghandi was reportedly targeted because "he is seen as an important leader of the civil society groups".
"This is just another manifestation of the faction leaders' efforts to sideline and marginalise civil society," Maryan Husayn Awreye, a civil society member, told IRIN from Eldoret. "They cannot use guns in Kenya to silence us now, so they resort to sending thugs brought in from Somalia instead."
The role of civil society at the peace talks was crucial and "they will remain an important part of the process", the Eldoret source told IRIN.
"The new chairman, the technical committee and the international community fully support civil society's role of lending the process legitimacy and expertise," he stressed. "Civil society must have an acceptable proportion of representation in the overall number of delegates, including the leaders' committee."
Maryan Awreye said the faction leaders did not want anyone else to become involved in the final outcome, "and so they are determined to intimidate us". "This is the only reason for beating up Prof Ghandi."
She called on the Kenyan government and the international community "not only to condemn but to take steps to ensure it never happens again, and bring the perpetrators to court".
"We need assurances that we are safe here, otherwise we may have to leave," she warned.
The wholesale departure of the civil society groups would lead to the failure of the talks, "since any outcome based on an exclusive agreement on the part of the factions agreement would lack legitimacy in the eyes of most Somalis", she added.
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