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Tribal Rage Tears at Diverse Kenyan City

The International Criminal Court named several prominent Kenyans as suspects in the violence that followed the 2007 election. More than 1,000 people were killed and hundreds of thousands were displaced during the turmoil.

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By Stephanie McCrummen
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, January 3, 2008

ELDORET, Kenya, Jan. 2 -- One after another, bandaged men and women offered chilling details: that a swarming mob of machete-wielding men chained the front door of a mud-and-steel church, trapping about 100 people, mostly women and children, inside.

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The mob shoved mattresses against the outside walls, doused them with gasoline and tossed a match.

Those inside who tried to escape through windows were hacked to death with machetes.

But for Joseph Njuguna, who rested in the sun outside a hospital Wednesday, his head and hands bandaged from fighting off a machete blade, there was one detail that disturbed him more than all the others: a familiar face in the screaming mob.

"Paul," said Njuguna, who is from the Kikuyu tribe, referring to a man from a different tribe. "He's my neighbor. He is my friend. I did not think that Paul could do something like that."

Since Sunday, when President Mwai Kibaki was declared winner of an election amid charges of vote-rigging, a massive wave of house burnings has overwhelmingly targeted members of his ethnic group, the Kikuyus, who have been driven from their homes by the tens of thousands, according to victims, aid workers and local officials.

Perhaps nowhere have Kenyans been transformed so quickly from ethnically integrated neighbors into tribal warriors than in this western city, which has been the scene of previous bouts of ethnic fighting, but not on this scale.

The situation has quieted in Nairobi and elsewhere across the country, but here in Eldoret, scores of houses were burned to the ground Wednesday.

Some of the attackers call themselves Raila's Army, for fiery opposition leader Raila Odinga, who says the election, initially praised for its openness and high turnout, was stolen from him by a Kikuyu elite that refuses to relinquish power. Massive rallies are planned for Thursday, offering a chance for the venting of anger or creating a venue for larger confrontations between protesters and police.

In Eldoret, though some of the gangs are composed of Odinga's ethnic Luo community, the mobs are overwhelmingly made up of Kalenjin, who consider the land here historically theirs and appear to be waging a war against what they consider to be entrenched Kikuyu power.

For generations, Kikuyus have settled here among dozens of other ethnic groups, but they are now being distilled from the mix -- flushed out of their cosmopolitan neighborhoods into frightened huddles in schools, churches and police stations by bow-and-arrow-wielding mobs that roam the city.

Officials said that at least 110 people had been killed here since Monday, and because of the prevailing insecurity, at least 50 bodies still lay in the roads.


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