'Hundreds dead' in Kenya gang crackdown

Police may have killed hundreds of people in a crackdown on Kenya’s notorious Mungiki gang, a rights group said on Thursday, in a growing national controversy ahead of a presidential election in December.

The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights said it suspects police dumped hundreds of bodies in a Nairobi mortuary before lack of space forced them to use secluded bushland outside the capital.

Under fire earlier in the year from rights groups, including Amnesty International, for alleged execution-style killings, police are furiously denying the new accusations, calling them an attempt to besmirch authorities before the December vote.

“They have a few facts here and there—but they are totally distorting them,” police spokesperson Eric Kiraithe said.

According to the rights commission, which is state-funded but acts independently, 458 bodies were taken to Nairobi’s main mortuary since June by a government-registered vehicle.

“We have the registration number of this vehicle, which was also seen in Kiserian,” said commission spokesperson Victor Bwire, referring to a site outside Nairobi where bodies have been found in the bush or at the roadside.

The commission and other rights groups believe the corpses are of suspected members of the criminal Mungiki gang. Most have a single bullet wound in the back of the head, witnesses say.

The Mungiki gang, whose name means “multitude” in the language of the Kikuyu tribe from which it draws its ranks, first emerged in the 1990s as a quasi-religious sect. It has grown into the country’s biggest criminal operation and was blamed for a series of beheadings and mutilations in Nairobi and central Kenya earlier this year.

Analysts say politicians have had close links to Mungiki, using the gang as muscle-for-hire and complicit in extortion rackets.

Police were accused of—and denied—extrajudicial killings in two anti-Mungiki raids in Nairobi’s Mathare slum that killed more than 30 people in June.

Bwire said 11 bodies of suspected Mungiki members had been dumped at another mortuary in Naivasha town, north-west of Nairobi, since June, while bodies had also been discovered around Nakuru, Narok and Machakos towns, he said.

His group has hired counsellors to help relatives of the dead deal with their shock over the killings, which he said appeared to be a “manifestation” of a vow by Security Minister John Michuki to wipe out the criminal gang.

“I cannot tell you today where those who have been arrested in connection with the recent killings are,” Michuki told church-goers in June in comments widely reported by local media. “What you will be hearing is that there will be a burial tomorrow ... If you use a gun to kill, you are also required to be executed.”

Meanwhile, the boss of another local human rights group said he received threats from anonymous callers after it published a separate report alleging police killings of Mungiki suspects.

“I have received four of those calls today,” Kingara Kamau of the Oscar Foundation said on Thursday, adding the callers identified themselves as “friends of the government”.

Insecurity—from petty crime to Mungiki and land and tribal clashes—is a major factor in Kenya’s upcoming vote, where President Mwai Kibaki is seeking re-election but currently trails opposition front-runner Raila Odinga in polls.—Reuters

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