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Land Row Triggers Religious Violence

By Tervil Okoko, Panafrican News Agency, 2 December 2000

Nairobi, Kenya - A land dispute in a Nairobi residential slum of Kenya has stoked religious clashes between Muslims and Christians, claiming at least two lives.

A man and a woman, believed to be Christians died from the clashes sparked Wednesday with both sides claiming to have acquired the land from the government to build shanty dwellings.

The two victims were reportedly burnt to death when their houses were set alight Friday by alleged angry Muslim youths.

On Wednesday, Christians had reportedly burnt down a Mosque in the sprawling slum of Mukuru, scene of the recent deaths of an estimated 120 people, who consumed the killer local gin laced with poisonous chemical methanol.

Thousands of Muslims took to the streets in downtown Nairobi Friday to protest what they termed the "sacrilegious behaviour" of the Christians over the land dispute.

The angry Muslims reportedly stormed Mukuru and the adjacent middle-class residential area of South "C" where they allegedly burnt down a Catholic Church.

Witnesses said "Our Lady Queen of Peace" Church building went up in smoke as two of its Priests Patrick Francis and Patrick Jesus watched helplessly.

Since Thursday, riot police and the crack paramilitary General Service Unit have tried in vain to end the religious violence, which also seemingly defied Friday's appeal for peace by President Daniel arap Moi, who condemned the fighting as unacceptable and regrettable.

Meanwhile, a cross-section of religious leaders claimed Friday that the torching of the Mosque and the Church building was part of a wider government scheme to instigate religious clashes countrywide, pitting Christians against their Muslim brothers and sisters.

The Church leaders alleged that the scheme is aimed at frustrating the efforts of the parallel Ufungamano constitutional reform initiative spearheaded by clerics and opposition politicians.

The ruling KANU party in conjunction with its ally, the National Development Party of Raila Odinga, is backing an alternative plan for constitutional reform.

In a statement read on their behalf by the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK), the Rev, Mutava Musyimi, the Church leaders said: "We suspect there is a scheme to shift from the painful ethnic clashes of the past to equally devastating religious clashes."

They were referring to ethnic clashes that characterised the 1992 and 1997 general elections, for which critics have blamed some top government officials.

"There have been several attempts in the past by these forces to drive a wedge between us (Christians and Muslims), but they will not succeed," said a top official of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (SUPKEM), Sheikh Abdullahi Abdi.

In the past, Kenyan Muslims have complained about what they term the government's systematic persecution of Muslims.

They claimed that after the August 7, 1998 terrorist bombing of the American embassy in Nairobi, which killed some 250 and injured 5,000 others, the government cracked down on Muslim non- governmental organisations (NGOs) in the country, closing down most of them.

The Muslim NGOs were accused of having a hand in the terrorist attack that coincided with a similar one in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.