Date: Mon, 13 Apr 98 09:26:24 CDT
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Heavy Cloud of Violence Looms, Coalition Says
By Moyiga Nduru, IPS, 9 April 1998
NAIROBI, Apr 9 (IPS) -- A coalition of three major human rights groups has warned that Kenya is "a powder keg waiting to explode," unless the government stops using "divide and rule" tactics that will plunge the country deeper into violence.
"Kenya is a powder keg waiting to explode, all the signs are there," Edge Kanyongolo, a spokesperson for the coalition told journalists here this week.
Kanyongolo said the group, made up of officials from Amnesty International, Article 19 and Human Rights Watch, spent 10 days interviewing more than 200 people, including survivors of violent incidents, as well as Kenyan government officials.
The delegation, in a statement made available to IPS on Tuesday, said it found the situation particularly serious in the Rift Valley Province, where killings still continue sporadically after the recent mass attacks. Over 100 people have been killed and thousands displaced since the latest violence began in January 1998.
"The downward spiral of violence and ethnic hatred is resulting in increasing human rights violations, and will not end until the government stops using divide and rule tactics," said Kanyongolo.
These clashes have pitted the Kikuyu, Kenya's largest single ethnic group, against the Kalenjin, who are the indigenous people from the affected province.
Like the clashes in the Rift Valley in 1992, the current unrest -- over a land dispute -- is seen as part of a deliberate attempt to force the Kikuyu, who tend to support the opposition, from the area.
A large proportion of the people in the area are from President Daniel arap Moi's Kalenjin community and the pastoral groups, the Masaai, Turkana, Samburu and Pokot, which support Moi's government.
Hilary Fisher of Amnesty International said the coalition had found some worrying new developments, including an increasing use of more sophisticated weapons, and a new tendency to target women for rape and killing. Also, "old people and children are not spared," she said.
Fisher warned that the cheapness and availability of firearms in Kenya could only worsen the cycle of revenge in the region.
In a bid to curb the violence, Moi declared a dusk-to-dawn curfew in Nakuru in February, a week after the conflict erupted. The Kenyan leader accused the "business and local authorities of a particular community" living in Nakuru of funding the violence.
Nakuru, located some 156 kilometres northwest of the capital city of Nairobi, is the main town in the Rift Valley Province, where Njoro and Laikipia -- the scene of the current violence -- are located.
Up to now, many survivors are afraid to return to their homes, citing lack of security in the area and the apparent unwillingness of the authorities to prevent further attacks.
"The government has systematically failed to investigate and punish armed aggressors, and to protect frightened, angry and displaced people," said Binaifer Nowrojee of the Human Rights Watch.
She claimed that the supporters of the ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU) were instigating political violence, and then blamed the incidents on spontaneous outbursts of ethnic hatred.
The coalition of human rights groups said the current violence follows the pattern established in 1991-94, in which supporters of the ruling party, attacked members of ethnic groups believed to support the political opposition.
"In that violence, high-ranking government involvement was proven," said Nowrojee. "This time, compelling evidence suggests that the initial attacks were organised from outside the communities."
"Attacks occurred only in areas where the opposition Democratic Party (DP) won seats. Violence began within days of KANU politicians visiting the area and verbally threatening DP supporters, who had recently mounted a legal challenge to the presidential election results," she said.
Fisher urged the donors to exert pressure on the government of Moi to stop the violence. "It is the responsibility of government to protect its citizens," she said.
"If government fails to take immediate steps," said Nowrojee, "it will be too late for Kenya."
She said they found both sides -- the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin -- polarised. "Both sides are talking about fighting," she said.
Origin: Harare/HUMAN RIGHTS-KENYA/
[c] 1998, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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