Kenya 2ndLd-Writethru 04-15
Kenya: Fears of violence snarl transport
Kenya: Fears of violence snarl commuter transport, death toll rises to 13 in street clashes Eds: RECASTS to UPDATE with commuter transportation snarled; CHANGES byline.
AP Photo NAI101
By MALKHADIR M. MUHUMED
Associated Press Writer
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Fears of retaliation from an outlawed Kenyan gang kept thousands of buses off streets and snarled transportation for commuters Tuesday, a day after street clashes between police and the gang killed at least 13 people, officials said.
The gang-related bloodshed is not connected to the December election that unleashed weeks of violence and tarnished Kenya’s reputation for stability in a region that includes war-ravaged Somalia and Sudan.
But the gang violence, if it continues, will pose a challenge to Kenya’s new power-sharing government, which was formed after more than 1,000 people were killed following the disputed presidential election.
On Monday, a notorious criminal gang called the Mungiki protested in Nairobi’s slums and several other towns after its imprisoned leader’s wife was found beheaded last week. Gang members set up fiery roadblocks and burned minibuses, known as matatus, which are the main form of public transportation in Kenya.
The gang demanded a public transportation boycott, and throngs of commuters from the eastern part of the capital were forced to walk to work Tuesday because the minibuses they normally use stayed off the roads.
"Today’s protests involve the public transport sector, boycotting services in Nairobi and other areas of the country," said Joe Waiganjo, of the Kenya National Youth Alliance, the gang’s political wing.
A leaflet circulating among drivers warned, "Today we held a peaceful demonstration, but tomorrow (Wednesday) we will be sabotaging and beheading all drivers, conductors and passengers who will rebel against our orders."
Later Tuesday, Kenya’s railway management company suspended all passenger train services across the country after Mungiki members removed railway lines on Monday, causing two commuter trains to derail. No passengers were injured.
"It is unfortunate that we had to suspend these services," Roy Puffett, managing director of Rift Valley Railways, said in a statement. "We take utmost responsibility in safeguarding the security of our passengers as well as protecting our assets."
The company has not stopped its cargo services.
At least one 30-seat bus was set on fire in the capital Tuesday morning. Simon Kimutai, head of the Matatu Owners Association, said about 7,000 of Nairobi’s 15,000 minibuses were not operating.
"It shows the might of the Mungiki," Kimutai said. "They are a parallel government, a Mafia-like outfit."
Mungiki is believed to have thousands of adherents, all drawn from the Kikuyu, Kenya’s largest tribe. The group, whose name means "multitude" in the Kikuyu language, was inspired by the bloody Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s against British colonial rule. In recent years, it has been linked to extortion, murder and political violence.
Mungiki members have fought for years with minibus owners over control of the lucrative bus system.
"We are afraid of Mungiki. They will harass us if we venture into their strongholds. They warned us," said William Kamau, a minibus driver.
A police officer who asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media said police had received shoot-to-kill orders overnight.
A dozen bodies with gunshot wounds were brought to Nairobi’s city mortuary from Monday’s fighting, said an attendant who did not want his name used because he is not authorized to speak to the media. A police official, who also didn’t want his name used, said a 13th person was shot to death overnight in sweeps through the slums.
Monday’s clashes started before dawn in Nairobi’s slums and several other towns. The Mungiki has vowed to take its fight nationwide unless its leader, Maina Njenga, is released. The group accused police of being behind the death of Njenga’s wife and the gang’s acting leader last week.
Police deny any involvement.
The violence comes at a precarious time in Kenya. President Mwai Kibaki named opposition leader Raila Odinga as prime minister Sunday, implementing a power-sharing deal. Observers said the Dec. 27 election was so flawed it was impossible to tell who won.
Associated Press writer Elizabeth A. Kennedy contributed to this report.