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NAIROBI, Oct 1 1995 (IPS) - English photographer Julie Ward (28) could not have imagined when she set off for a six month tour of Kenya in 1988, that her dream holiday would end as a dark, deadly nightmare.
An ongoing probe into how the young woman met her death in the lush country with which she had fallen in love a year earlier, may open a political can of worms in Kenya and trigger a diplomatic row with Britain.
A few days before she was scheduled to return to England, the hotel tycoon’s daughter entered the famous Maasai Mara game reserve where she was fatally assaulted by unknown assailants.
In the inquest in 1988, the official line was that she had been killed by wild animals. The forensic evidence was shaky and a team of Scotland Yard detectives complained of filibustering by the Kenyan police. They eventually arrested two suspects who worked in the park but they were released after eight months in jail.
So far, no one has offered information leading to the arrest of Ward’s murderers despite the five million Kenya shillings (10,000 dollars) reward put up by her father John (63) who later doubled the amount.
Speculation is rife as to motive. One theory holds that she stumbled across a major drugs and gun-running operation or a training camp for death squads in a country where political murders are common.
But the most dramatic suggestion comes from Valentine Uhuru Kodipo, a self-proclaimed former secret agent who charges that Ward was eliminated by the secret police on suspicion of spying for enemies of President Daniel Arap Moi.
The government says Kodipo was a tea picker in Moi’s home province, but Kodipo claims to have been part of Kenya’s General Service Unit (GSU), a para-military force used to quash unrest, bandits and guarding the country’s borders.
The unit gained notoriety in 1995 when its former head, the late Ben Gethi was named in a parliamentary report as the mastermind behind the brutal death of populist politician Josiah Mwangi Kariuki.
Speaking from a foreign country where he is in exile, Kodipo, alias Lieutenant Abdul Kadii Arap Kigen and George Odhiambo, says Ward was tortured and bludgeoned to death with a club on orders from a high-ranking member of the ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU).
Kodipo claims to have fled Kenya in 1992 as he was tired of the death squads.
Kodipo, who claims to have witnessed Ward’s killing, told a British newspaper, The Mail: “I looked and saw it was a woman, naked from the waist up with a gag in her mouth and tied with her hands behind her back.
“I knew she was a victim because that was the way we always tied them up. By now it was past midnight and the half naked girl I had seen before was being dragged backwards and forwards by a rope around her waist.
“Everyone in the group was whipping her with hippo hide whips and shouting questions at her and about her movement and what she knew about them. They thought she had been spying on them,” Kodipo continues.
“The gag was out of her mouth and she was crying and pleading with them. The senior police officer was the worst. He was merciless. I watched for almost 20 minutes and then the whipping stopped. The man in charge told another man – a much feared politician murderer – to end it.”
Kodipo says Ward was killed by a blow to the base of her skull with a carved Maasai wooden club: “She fell down and her body twitched for some minutes before she was quiet.
“The whole group was silent, just looking at the body for a while, then the political figure raised his hand and said, ‘What we have seen here must remain here and if you try to tell anyone, the same will happen to you’.”
Police commissioner Shedrach Kiruki disowns Kodipo. “We don’t know him and he was never a member of our police force. He is just looking for means of survival in exile.”
Kiruki says it is premature to comment on whether or not local police would cooperate with Britain’s Scotland Yard who have re- opened the investigation.
The Yard considers Kodipo a credible witness whose story is entirely feasible. Frustrated by Kenya’s uncooperative stance, Britain will be sending detectives back to Nairobi to interview suspects, according to The Mail.
“Plans are already in hand to issue an international arrest warrant naming the murder gang (should the Kenyan government deny the Yard permission to interrogate murder suspects),” a source from the Yard told the paper.
The British High Commissioner here, Peter Hemans, says Ward’s killers are being protected “somewhere by someone.”
Information minister Johnstone Maku accuses the British media of being part of an “international conspiracy” to malign Kenya. “The British press once respected because of its unbiased and factual reporting is falling prey to conmen who have to sell stories to survive in Europe,” he said.
In London, Ward’s father is not entirely convinced by Kodipo’s statement: “I’m keeping an open mind about some aspects of his account.” He is however suing the government for 33 million dollars over the way the police investigated the murder.
“Kenya deserves a better government than it has. And Julie Ward’s family deserves the justice that is rightly theirs,” said a Sunday Mail editorial on September 24.
Having sent a taped interview with Kadipo to the foreign office, the paper urges Britain to freeze all aid to Kenya until the guilty are punished.
Under single-party rule, Kenya was regularly slammed by donors and rights groups for its human rights record. An aid freeze in 1991 was designed to force political reforms, but even after multi- party elections in 1992, donors remain concerned over Moi’s authoritarianism.
The verdict in the trial of four political dissidents led by Koigi Wa Wamwere is expected Monday for allegedly launching an armed raid on a police station in Moi’s Rift Valley province.
The London-based rights group Amnesty International claims the government has fabricated the evidence in the case and the trial is an example of political influence in the justice system under KANU rule.
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