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Kenyan Police Kill 21 Suspected Cult Members


Kenyan police have shot dead 21 people in a slum in the capital, Nairobi, after two police officers were killed on Monday night. The police say the dead were members of the outlawed Mungiki sect, which has been blamed for a recent upsurge in violence, including the beheading of six people in Kenya last month. For VOA, Katy Migiro has this report from Nairobi.

The Kenyan police sent for reinforcements after two of their officers were killed and two injured in Nairobi slums on Monday night. Police say the reinforcing officers became involved in a shootout with about 100 people in the slum who were trying to obstruct their operation. A total of 21 people are believed to have been killed in the gun battle.

Kenya police believe that those who killed the officers and were in turn themselves killed in the shootout were members of the notorious Mungiki sect, which has been linked to several gruesome murders in Kenya in recent months.

Mburu Gitu, secretary to the government-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, says that while the police are entitled to use force if their lives are in danger, they also have a constitutional duty to respect human rights and civil liberties. Gitu says every suspect must be presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

"I think what one needs to do is to call upon the police even as they respond to the crisis which clearly Mungiki is presenting to them, that they need to do that in a manner that is even handed," he said. "So that their response is not perceived to be overbearing with the possibility of loss of lives of innocent people. Because we know that with this kind of incidents there is always the possibility that innocent people will be caught up and will end up losing their lives."

However, David Kimaiyo, director of operations at Police Headquarters in Nairobi, defended his officers, saying that the police response was justified.

"If you are pursuing some criminal and it happens that you confront a group of people and they are challenged to stop and identify yourselves," he said. "That these are policemen, please we are challenging you or we are warning you to stop and you surrender. And you still want to shoot or maybe shooting back as you are running away. How do you actually wait when somebody is shooting? So it's not a matter of going to say, 'are you a Mungiki or are you not a Mungiki?'"

The Mungiki is a quasi-religious sect that emerged in Kenya in the 1990s, claiming to promote the traditional culture of the Kikuyu community, Kenya's largest ethnic group. It was banned in 2002, following a wave of murders in the same Mathare slums where Monday night's violence took place.

Despite government claims a few years ago that it had wiped out the Mungiki, the cult appears stronger than ever. In recent months it has become involved in a bloody battle for control of profitable private minibus, or matatu, routes. The Mungiki are widely believed to be behind the abduction, torture and beheading of six people in central Kenya in May.

Last week, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki vowed to kill those behind the murders.

However, Gitu, of the human rights commission, fears that worse is yet to come as Kenya gears up to elections in December, traditionally a turbulent time in the country.

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