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Ethnic Tensions Running High in Kenya

Ethnic tensions continue to run high in Kenya where there have been threats of revenge following the deaths on Tuesday of at least 30 children and adults who had taken refuge in a church in the Rift Valley town of Eldoret. As VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu reports from Nairobi, diplomatic efforts, including mediation by the African Union, are underway to try to end the post-election violence that has killed more than 300 people.

An ethnic Kikukyu resident of Eldoret, who only identifies himself as Gachoka, tells VOA the angry mob that attacked the church in Eldoret were members of the ethnic Luo and Kalenjin tribes, who believe incumbent President Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, stole last Thursday's presidential elections from his Luo challenger, Raila Odinga.

The mob set the church ablaze, burning a group of Kikukyus who had sought refuge there from violence that has uprooted more than 70,000 Kenyans since the announcement of election results on Sunday. More than 5,000 people are believed to have fled to neighboring Uganda.

Gachoka says he and his wife and five children are now in hiding, fearing the worst.

"The Kalenjins and the Luos, they are ganging [up[ against the Kikuyus. The situation is very tense. Unless the government acts very quickly, it will erupt into a tribal war, pitting Kikuyus against the other tribes," he said.

VOA has learned that thousands of Kikukyu men, armed with guns, attempted to travel to Eldoret from Nairobi overnight by road, but could not pass heavily-guarded police checkpoints. The men are now reportedly trying to travel there in small groups.

In Naivasha town in the Rift Valley, dozens of people were wounded in revenge attacks Tuesday night. About 300 terrified residents are said have taken refuge at a local police station and prison.

Since Kenya re-introduced multiparty elections in 1992, the country's roughly 40 ethnic groups have competed at the polls for political power. But for decades, the largest ethnic group, the Kikuyus, have dominated Kenya both politically and financially.

The former executive director of Transparency International in Kenya, Mwalimu Mati, says the current level of ethnic tension is among the highest he has ever seen. He says he believes the only way to ease tensions is to quickly find a solution to the political crisis.

"I am not one of those predicting civil war. This is a politically-instigated violence resulting, I believe, primarily from the illegitimate end to the presidential elections," he said. "The ordinary Kenyan is not psyched up, as it were, to hate people from other tribes."

President Kibaki was sworn in for a second term on Sunday despite widespread allegations of vote-rigging. Opposition leader Raila Odinga has vowed to set up a parallel government, prompting fears that the election dispute could fuel more unrest in what had been one of the most stable countries in Africa.

The head of the African Union, Ghanaian President John Kufuor, is in Nairobi to lead a joint mediation effort with the Commonwealth, represented by former president of Sierra Leone Ahmed Tejan Kabbah.

The diplomatic effort comes as the United States and Britain issued a joint statement urging Kenyan political leaders to end the violence through what they termed an intensive political and legal process that can build a united and peaceful future for Kenya.