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Kikuyus still shelter in church despite massacre
January 5, 2008 / 8:24 PM / in 10 years

Kikuyus still shelter in church despite massacre

(Adds baby pushed back into flames at burning church)

By Tim Cocks

ELDORET, Kenya, Jan 5 (Reuters) - Close to where 30 of their kin burned to death, thousands of Kikuyus are sheltering in another church, protected by a cleric from the same tribe that carried out the worst atrocity of Kenya’s crisis.

Catholic Bishop Cornelius Korir is a Kalenjin, the ethnic group whose youths have run riot in the lush Rift Valley, killing scores of President Mwai Kibaki’s Kikuyus after his disputed election win.

Korir has sheltered some 9,000 people fleeing Kalenjin gangs at Eldoret’s Sacred Heart Cathedral, a few kilometres from Kiambaa, where a mob last Tuesday locked the doors of a church and set it on fire with Kikuyus cowering inside.

In a measure of the horror of the atrocity, witnesses said a desperate mother pushed her baby out through a window but the mob grabbed the child and threw him back into the flames. "I’ve tried to tell people there’s no difference between us," Korir told Reuters as families sat behind him on bags and mattresses. "I look after all people, regardless of tribe.

"Normally, we co-exist. But then politics comes along and incites people," Korir said, as a family filled a bucket from a tap at the side of a pond.

The United Nations says 250,000 Kenyans have fled from a week of mayhem following the Dec. 27 election. Opposition leader Raila Odinga says the result was rigged and Kibaki, hurriedly sworn in on Sunday, is an illegal president.

At least 300 people died in rioting and ethnic killing after the election as other groups took out their frustration on Kenya’s largest tribe, which has produced two of the three post-independence presidents.

The worst violence has been in this tribally mixed area, where mobs have attacked Kikuyus with machetes and burned hundreds of homes, forcing thousands to flee in armed convoys.

Eldoret was the scene of similar ethnic reprisals against Kikuyus during the 1992 and 1997 elections.



"WHY DO WE FIGHT?"

At Eldoret’s overcrowded Moi Hospital, victims nursing deep cuts were still trickling in, although the violence appeared to have subsided around the country.

A man with multiple gashes in his head, some festering, lay unconscious. Another cried out deliriously: "We are all Africans, all brothers created by God. Why do we fight?"

Police were dismantling road blocks earlier manned by drunken, bloodthirsty youths looking for Kikuyus.

A Reuters reporter saw police backed by a machinegun-mounted pickup truck clearing rocks from the road.

Now victims are counting the cost of devastation that has reduced hundreds of homes to cinders.

"They burned my house, my crops, even my goats. I have nothing left. This is civil war," said Teresa Waitera, 60.

At the scene of the church massacre, Joseph Kwasila, 37, said: "We were friends, they are our neighbours."

Pointing to the burned hulk of a building he added: "They used to take beer and chat with us in that looted and burned shop."

Bishop Korir is not just sheltering Kikuyus, he is trying to push for dialogue.

"We’re already beginning dialogue with the warring communities. There’s a sign they’re slowly coming together."

(Editing by Barry Moody and Myra MacDonald)

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