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Gang Violence Turns Deadly in Central Kenya

Kenyan police say at least 29 people have died after members of a criminal gang clashed with residents of a village in central Kenya. The incident is the latest sign of tensions between the Mungiki gang and communities in the area.

Residents of the Karatina area of central Kenya awoke to the sight of dead bodies lying in the village roads. Kenyan officials say more bodies could turn up.

Police officials described a clash between the Mungiki gang and members of the public. But Central Province commissioner Kiplimo Rugut told VOA the Mungiki gang appeared to be behind the bulk of the killings, retaliating against earlier attacks by residents of the area.

"Members of the public for the last one week have refused basically to yield to the pressure by members of the proscribed Mungiki group to extort money from them, to harass them, and generally make life difficult for everybody including the business community, members of the public, farmers and everybody else," he said.

In the past week, villagers in the area had formed vigilante groups and killed at least 12 people suspected of being Mungiki members. Rugut said the latest attack appeared to be a reaction to that violence.

"Now in the course of the night we believe the Mungiki regrouped in retaliation now to this, because the attack had the hallmark of a Mungiki attack," he said. "We are observing the gruesome mutilation of hands, mutilation of legs, hacking of necks."

Police say that 37 people have been arrested, and several machetes and other weapons have been confiscated.

Spokesman Njuguna Gitau of the Kenya National Youth Alliance, an organization widely seen as the Mungiki's "political arm", said the attacks were carried out by a vigilante group, with the cooperation of Kenyan officials.

"This vigilante group has been given the mandate to go from house to house, flushing out the so-called suspected Mungiki members and killing them brutally," he said. "The vigilante group had vowed yesterday to extend the operation all over Central Kenya"

The Mungiki is Kenya's most notorious gang, famous for beheading some of its victims. The group's members, estimated in the thousands, are largely drawn from poor, young, men from the Kikuyu ethnic group, Kenya's largest and most powerful.

The group has been linked to Kenyan political leaders, particularly during post-election violence in early 2008.