By BosNewsLife News Center
NAIROBI, KENYA (BosNewsLife)– At least dozens of people were burned to death in a Protestant church in western Kenya where they had taken shelter from tribal clashes sparked by a disputed vote that gave the president a second term, police and Red Cross sources said Tuesday, January 1.
Red Cross rescue workers said so far some 50 bodies had been recovered in the Kenya Assemblies of God Church in the town of Eldoret, some 300 kilometers (185 miles) from the capital Nairobi. It was unclear how many people had escaped Tuesday's inferno as about 200 Kenyans were reportedly in the church when an angry mob torched it, local residents and security sources said.
The victims were believed to be mostly Kikuyus from Kibaki's ethnic group who fled homes in the area in fear of their lives. "I could not look at the scene twice," Reuters news agency quoted one local journalist who saw the burned corpses at the site about 8 kilometers (5 miles) from the town.
"Some youths came to the church. They fought with the boys who were guarding it, but they were overpowered and the youths set fire to the church," he said. The church fire was likely to raise concerns that the wave of post-election violence that has now claimed nearly 300 lives in Kenya could develop into a full-blown ethnic conflict.
Police said they had been given shoot-to-kill orders for Eldoret, which already witnessed some of the worst violence since Sunday's controversial re-election of President Mwai Kibaki triggered riots in strongholds of his defeated opponent Raila Odinga.
The area is multi-ethnic but traditionally dominated by the Kalenjin tribe. It suffered ethnic violence in 1992 and 1997 when hundreds of people — mainly Kikuyus — were killed and thousands more displaced in land clashes, local observers said.
Christians were apparently caught in the middle of the fighting with police officials speaking of "ethnic cleansing" in the area, with one tribe targeting another one.
A Catholic priest said security had deteriorated fast since Sunday, December 31, with "thousands" of terrified, mainly Kikuyu, refugees now taking shelter in churches in and around Eldoret as vigilante gangs roamed outside.
HOUSES BEING BURNED
"There are four to five thousand in the main Cathedral, and thousands in other churches," Father Paul Brennan, an Irishman, told Reuters news agency. "Houses are being burned. It is too dangerous to go outside and count the dead." Local officials said as many as 15,000 people were sheltering at churches and police stations in Eldoret.
In published remarks, Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) Secretary General Abbass Gulled, who earlier visited several affected areas in the region, said the situation was dire. "What I saw was unimaginable and indescribable," he was quoted as saying by the French News Agency AFP.
President Mwai Kibaki, who was sworn in during a controversial ceremony despite the disputed election results, urged political parties to immediately call for calm in what till last week had been seen as one of east Africa's most stable and prosperous democracies. (With BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos and Santosh Digal)
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