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INTERVIEW-Kenyan elder denies masterminding violence
March 20, 2008 / 10:47 AM / in 10 years

INTERVIEW-Kenyan elder denies masterminding violence

By Andrew Cawthorne

ELDORET, Kenya, March 20 (Reuters) - An influential Kenyan elder accused of masterminding post-election ethnic violence has denied any involvement and accused authorities of a witch-hunt against his Kalenjin community.

"I am an old man, my age does not allow me to go to war," said Jackson Kibor, 73, chairman of elders in the Rift Valley for the opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) that challenged the government at a December poll.

In a rare interview, the veteran local politician rejected the versions of police and U.S.-based Human Rights Watch that he was among local Kalenjin elders financing and plotting attacks against President Mwai Kibaki's Kikuyu community.

"It is a lie. I do not have money to give out. There is no evidence to support the accusations. I was at home during the trouble," Kibor told Reuters in Swahili and some broken English over tea late on Wednesday at a hotel in Eldoret town.

Eldoret and the surrounding north Rift Valley was one of the worst-hit areas in a two-month crisis that killed 1,000 people after Kibaki's disputed re-election.

Kalenjin warriors armed with bows and arrows burned homes, killed Kikuyus and drove tens of thousands away.

In the worst single incident, hundreds of Kalenjins surrounded a church, burning about 30 people alive inside and using machetes to kill others who ran outside, witnesses say.

"They (the police) said I burned a church in Kiambaa, but I have never been there, I do not know where it is," said the tall and grey-haired Kibor, who has been charged with incitement but released on bail until a hearing next month.

"The church killings were something bad done by angry young men."



RIGHTS ACCUSATIONS

Now that Kibaki and the ODM have reached a power-sharing accord to end the crisis, rights groups are pressuring Kenya to find those behind one of the worst bouts of violence in the east African nation since independence from Britain in 1963.

Human Rights Watch said local community leaders in the Rift Valley were often "chief architects" of violence.

"According to many Kalenjin community leaders in Eldoret North, for instance, the organisation of violence in communities there was openly spearheaded by a venerable Kalenjin politician...named Jackson Kibor," it said this week.

But the elder, who arrived for the interview in a 4X4 vehicle with an armed bodyguard, said that was nonsense.

"There was no pre-planning. If people knew there would be war, they would have left the country," he said.

Violence broke out everywhere, he said, due to justified anger at Kibaki's victory despite allegations of vote-rigging.

"People knew that (ODM leader) Raila (Odinga) had been robbed of the presidency. People started fighting. I saw them go. I couldn't stop them. They would have attacked me."

Kibor, who owns three farms with more than 3,000 acres and a transport business, said investigations were biased.

"They are mistreating and harassing people in the Rift Valley, arresting people on trumped-up charges. Every community committed atrocities, but only one community is being singled out, the Kalenjins," he said.

"If they wanted to know who killed people, they should have arrested the police first. Because many people were felled by bullets and ordinary Kenyans do not have bullets."

Rights groups accuse police of excessive force. Police deny that and have arrested several hundred people on charges of involvement in the post-election mayhem.

"And what about the people dragged out of the minibus in Naivasha and killed by machete?" Kibor added.

"We saw it on TV, but have those people been arrested? No, because they were from the other community." (Additional reporting by Wangui Kanina) (For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: africa.reuters.com/)



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