Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Kenya: Catholic priest Killed

A Catholic priest of the Diocese of Nakuru was killed as vicious inter-ethnic violence claimed more lives in the Rift Valley town.

Fr. Michael Kamau Ithondeka, 41, was killed Saturday morning at an illegal roadblock set up by armed youth on the Nakuru - Eldama Ravine Road.

He was vice- rector at St Mathias Mulumba Senior Seminary in Tindinyo.

According to Fr Simon Githara, the parish priest of Eldama Ravine, Fr Kamau was accosted by armed youths who claimed they were on a revenge mission after one of their own was killed in Nakuru. His pleas for mercy fell on deaf ears as the youths descended on him with crude weapons, killing him on the spot.

The news comes as other reports indicate that public mortuaries in Nakuru have received at least 51 bodies and police are still collecting more from around the town.

A local reporter in Nakuru, David Omwoyo, says the violence appears to be revenge against members of the Kalenjin, Luo and Luhyia communities following the recent killing of members of the Kikuyu community in the Rift Valley.

Suspected Kikuyu gangs have taken over the town, he says. There are about six groups of about 1,000 armed men conducting raids in various parts of the town. Businesses remain closed and there is no public transport.

Police and the military are evacuating non-Kikuyus from the town. Hundreds of newly displaced persons have sought refuge in four Catholic parishes.

Meanwhile, security sources say a group calling itself Kalenjin Land Defence Forces is distributing leaflets calling for continued violence against members of the Kikuyu community in the Rift Valley. Kikuyus will be attacked even in their homeland in Central Kenya, the group says.

In a Thursday report which accused the opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) of helping to plan the chaos, Human Rights Watch collected accounts from several Kalenjin men present at community meetings where local elders and ODM mobilisers urged Kalenjins to contribute money to buy automatic weapons. Some communities had reportedly managed to obtain such weapons already.

The death of Fr. Kamau comes in the wake of threats to Kikuyu Catholic personnel working in the Rift Valley Province. In Eldoret. Two priests based at Moi University escaped death narrowly last week when their house was attacked at night.

One of the priests said that he and his colleague had received several threats after violence broke out following the disputed re-election of President Mwai Kibaki. The priests were successfully evacuated to Burnt Forest, a small town teeming with displaced people on the Eldoret-Nairobi highway.

The late Fr Kamau was born in Kiambu, near Nairobi, in 1966 and was baptized at Riara Parish in 1967.

He joined St Mary's Minor Seminary, Molo, in 1986 and later St Augustine's Seminary in 1987, before proceeding to St. Mathias Mulumba, 1989-1992

Kamau was ordained a priest of Nakuru Diocese on January 9, 1993, and sent to Lower Subukia Parish.

Between 1998 and 2002, Fr. Kamau studied scripture at the Biblicum (the Pontifical Institute for Biblical Studies) in Rome. Between 2003 and 2005, he served in Mwaragania Parish and as principal at Archbishop Ndingi Secondary School in Naivasha.

In 2005, he was posted to St Thomas Aquinas Seminary, Nairobi, before being moved to St Mathias Mulumba Seminary as Vice Rector.

Planned mediation talks led by the former UN secretary Kofi Annan are being complicated by the recent protests.

Negotiators led by Mr Annan have told the two rival camps to select four representatives each and study a blueprint for talks in the following 24 hours.

Mr Annan said on Saturday that the crisis in Kenya had gone well beyond an electoral dispute, and he denounced "gross and systematic" human rights abuses.

On Thursday, he brokered the first talks between President Mwai Kibaki and Opposition Mr Raila Odinga since the troubles began. But hopes of a quick solution evaporated hours later amid renewed verbal attacks by both camps, and violence continued. +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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