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KENYA: Reports of Bodies Piled In Morgue Spur Anger, Grief

Kwamboka Oyaro

NAIROBI, Jan 26 2008 (IPS) - Reports that more than 200 bodies of Kisii people have not been identified for burial in neighbouring Kericho district has sparked anger in the community which has been taking care of thousands of internally displaced persons since post-election violence broke out four weeks ago.

Church leaders gave a stern statement Thursday on the effects the violence has had on the community, asking the government to intervene and help them bury their dead.

"We want the government to assist us get the bodies here [Kisii town is some 50kms west of Kericho] and meet the funeral expenses. Our people died due to political violence and they should be offered a decent burial," Jeremiah Nyakundi, a priest at the Kisii Parish Catholic Church, told IPS.

The Kisii are a Bantu speaking community whose population is estimated at 2 million in western Kenya – about 380 km from capital Nairobi – sandwiched between two large Nilotic communities – Luo and Kalenjin – that supported the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) in last year’s elections. When the presidential results were announced on Sunday Dec. 30, hell descended especially on the Kisii people who had settled among these neighbouring communities. The attackers are reported to have accused members of the Kisii community of failure to vote as a bloc in support of ODM.

During the elections, the Kisii had voted for both ODM presidential candidate Raila Odinga and Party of National Unity (PNU)’s Mwai Kibaki. But ODM supporters accused the Kisii of voting only for Kibaki.

Janerose Gesare who was working in Kericho as a tea factory manager was warned of "dire consequences" soon after presidential results were announced.

"We were told we will see fire because: ‘If it wasn’t for you people, Kibaki wouldn’t have won’" Gesare was told. "Since I realised there could be trouble, I went home to Kisii that night," she told IPS.

It was the same night her friends from the community faced terror. They hid their children in tea plantations for safety only to be flushed out by dogs. Some were mauled. Others escaped with dog bites.

Most of the children’s parents did not make it out of the tea plantations alive. "I hear right now there are ants feasting on the bodies… they have decomposed and dried up," said Gesare, suddenly tearful.

By Jan.1, hundreds of traumatised Kisii people who had left their homes a long ago to settle elsewhere and raise families started streaming back in lorries without any earthly possessions and some without their loved ones. Others had witnessed their family members being butchered or their mothers and sisters being sexually defiled by young men.

They got shelter in church compounds – first in Kericho town – before the police escorted them to church compounds in neighbouring Kisii districts. "It has been difficult for the families to confirm the number of deaths since access to the areas they had fled is blocked after youths took over control of highways – unless one has security escort," said Nyakundi.

The priest told IPS that his Bishop had been informed by a senior police officer from the local police post that Kericho police authorities are advising the displaced people to go back and identify the bodies. "This message from the Bishop prompted the priests to take action."

The clergy met their followers in Kisii town and issued a press statement signed by 40 priests on behalf of the church asking the government to help them retrieve the bodies from Kericho for burial in Kisii.

The Kisii officer in charge, Augustine Kimantaria, told IPS that he was not aware of the number of uncollected bodies in Kericho.

"I am here in Kisii. How can I know what is happening in Kericho? Talk to Kericho people," he said in a telephone interview with IPS.

An official at the Kericho District Hospital, however, told IPS that the morgue had only 15 bodies – all electoral violence victims in recent attacks in Kipkelion area, which is not far from Kericho town.

"In any case, the morgue is too small to accommodate 250 bodies," he spoke to IPS on condition of anonymity.

But, Rodah Angwenyi who lost three relatives in the violence in Kericho, told IPS that nobody has been able to transport bodies from there for burial because of the insecurity.

"So where are those bodies?" she asks.

Earlier in the month, IPS talked to refugees from Kericho in camps in Kisii, who said that many people had been killed in tea plantations. Their families have not been able to identify these bodies or bury them.

From the church records of the displaced persons, some 20,000 people have passed through the temporary shelters in the churches. There are others – estimated at 30,000 – stranded in other camps around the country who are unable to get home due to lack of fare.

"These are people who were doing well in their businesses or farming. From such comfort you are reduced to a beggar depending on handouts from well- wishers. It is a shame," Nyakundi said.

It is perplexing why the community is being "persecuted through evictions and death," Nyakundi continued.

A newly elected member of parliament from Kisii, Momaima Onyonka, told journalists at a press conference Monday that the community was democratic as it voted for both presidential candidates equally.

It is yet to be clear why the community has borne the brunt of the post- election violence.

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