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World News

Kenyan tribes arming ahead of elections: group

ELDORET, Kenya (Reuters) - An arms race is on between two of Kenya’s largest ethnic communities ahead of the 2012 presidential election after the last disputed vote triggered weeks of tribal bloodletting, a rights group said.

An explosive combination of a desire for revenge and lack of state security has seen Kalenjin and Kikuyu communities in Kenya’s Rift Valley stockpile firearms, said the Center for Human Rights and Democracy.

“People are arming themselves with sophisticated firearms because there are certain communities who are saying enough is enough, the state cannot protect us ... we lost lives, we lost property, we lost our humanity,” Ken Wafula, head of the group, told Reuters.

More than 1,300 people were killed in the post-election fighting in early 2008 and 300,000 were uprooted, triggering investigations into crimes against humanity.

Wafula said politicians were spearheading fundraising campaigns to buy weapons such as AK-47 rifles and pistols. He said state security officials were not only turning a blind eye to the activity but actually assisting the amassing of firearms.

“State security machinery at the top level are involved. They are right in the middle of the arms race,” Wafula said in an interview in the Rift Valley town of Eldoret.

TRIBAL POLITICS

The International Criminal Court’s (ICC) chief is in Kenya this week after the Hague-based court approved an investigation into the violence which flared up when the opposition accused President Mwai Kibaki of stealing the vote.

ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has submitted a list of 20 names “who appear to bear the greatest responsibility”. The names have not been published, but the list is believed to include some prominent cabinet ministers.

Some of the worst violence occurred in the Kalejin’s Rift Valley homeland and targeted Kikuyus, triggering fierce reprisal attacks in the towns of Nakuru and Naivasha.

Tribal rivalries have plagued Kenyan politics since east Africa’s largest economy won independence from Britain in 1963, often intensifying around elections.

President Mwai Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe and the Kalenjin of former President Daniel Arap Moi have dominated Kenya’s post-colonial politics and acquired swathes of land across the country and in the fertile Rift Valley in particular.

Tribes, such as the Luo of Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Kibaki’s arch rival in the 2007 poll before he entered a coalition government brokered by former U.N. chief Kofi Annan, say they have been politically and economically marginalized.

Wafula was charged with inciting violence last year for saying that tribes in the Rift Valley were rearming. He denies the charges.

“There’s an arms race between the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin, but other tribes, Luhyas, Luos, and Kisiis are also joining in because no one wants to be caught unawares,” Wafula said.

“Suspicion and mistrust and ethnic hatred is really entrenched.”

Editing by Richard Lough and Giles Elgood

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