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Opposition Leader's Hometown Suspicious of Ugandan Support for Kenyan President

Uganda is strongly denying reports from Kenya that it has sent troops to help President Kibaki to quell opposition protests in the western part of the country. Anti-Ugandan sentiments are running high in the western city of Kisumu, home to opposition leader Raila Odinga, over rumors that the Kenyan government has incorporated hundreds of Ugandan troops into Kenya's paramilitary police. As VOA correspondent Alisha Ryu reports from Kisumu, there is a widespread belief that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is taking the side of President Mwai Kibaki in Kenya's post-election political dispute.

Like most of her neighbors in the Obunga slum in Kisumu, opposition supporter Eudia Anyango says she was deeply shocked by the Kenyan electoral commission's announcement that incumbent President Kibaki had won the December 27 presidential vote over their candidate, Raila Odinga.

That announcement was made on the evening of December 30, when, for the second day, this port town 300 kilometers west of the capital Nairobi, exploded in angry protests, rioting, and looting amid allegations that Mr. Kibaki had rigged the elections to stay in office for another five years.

According to residents here, Kenya's elite paramilitary police unit called the GSU was in Obungo, ostensibly to restore order. But Anyango says some GSU policemen fired their assault rifles wildly at groups of people, who were not threatening the police in any way.

One of the bullets hit Anyango's teen-aged daughter, killing her instantly. Anyango says she received another shock when neighbors told her whom they believed had shot the girl and many others in Kisumu and in neighboring villages.

"I was told that the Ugandans did this," Anyango says.

Reports of Ugandan troop presence in Kenya surfaced just after Kenyans voted in the closest presidential race in history.

Fishermen in Kisumu have told local media of seeing Ugandan men in military uniforms landing by boat along the shores of Lake Victoria and being picked up in government vehicles.

Other witnesses tell VOA that military-looking men speaking in English with Ugandan accents, but dressed in Kenyan GSU uniforms, have been harassing people in villages and markets for money and food.

A taxi driver in Kisumu, who identifies himself only as Richard, says he encountered several of them while he and some friends were buying bread at a local bakery a few weeks ago.

"They were telling us, 'We are visitors from the outside. Why do not you feed us? Just help us with one of two [loaves].' Then, I decided to give them one bread. So, we are asking ourselves, 'These people are visitors from another country. Which country is this?" asks Richard.

Kenyan suspicions that the Ugandan government of President Yoweri Museveni has sent members of his security forces in support of the Kenyan government stems partly from Mr. Museveni's perceived close friendship with President Kibaki. They note that the Ugandan president remains the only world leader to have congratulated Mr. Kibaki since the election.

Ugandan army spokesman Captain Paddy Ankunda says regardless of the friendly ties between the two governments, no Ugandan soldier has ever been knowingly sent to Kenya to boost Mr. Kibaki's bid to stay in power.

"That is a bad lie. There is nothing like that at all," he said. "Our forces are not anywhere near the Kenyan border and we have no intention whatsoever to send troops to Kenya."

Ugandan officials say President Museveni is in regular contact with both President Kibaki and Raila Odinga and that he is committed to assisting Kenyans find a lasting solution to the political crisis. The Ugandan leader is scheduled to arrive Tuesday in Nairobi to help break the deadlock that has plunged Kenya into the worst political and ethnic unrest since it gained independence from Britain in 1963.

Kenyan police chief in Kisumu, Grace Kaindi, also denies charges that the government is cooperating with the Ugandan military. Kaindi says she believes that residents are simply not familiar with the uniforms and the equipments used by the GSU and administrative police units that have been deployed to Kisumu.

"The locals are not used to the uniforms being worn by the police. When they saw these people coming in with funny gear, they thought they are coming from Uganda," said Kaindi.

But many opposition supporters in Kenya remain deeply suspicious.

During recent opposition demonstrations in Kisumu, angry protesters carried signs urging President Museveni to keep out of Kenyan politics. In recent days, goods being transported through Kenya to Uganda have been looted and a Kenyan mob uprooted several kilometers of the Uganda-Kenya railway line before the police could stop them.

A local businessman in Kisumu, Charles Awange, says there is a reason why many Kenyans remain wary of Uganda.

"Museveni's soldiers have disturbed many people in Africa, especially in Congo. This cannot be denied," he said.

In 1998, the Ugandan government flatly denied reports that its soldiers had entered eastern Congo Kinshasa. Uganda later admitted that it was conducting military operations there to protect Uganda from anti-Kampala rebels based in eastern Congo. The United Nations and human-rights groups accused Uganda of using the rebel threat as an excuse to steal Congo's resources.

Meanwhile, the director of operations for the Kenya Police, David Kimaiyo, says he has no knowledge of a report VOA has received of 1,100 Sudanese soldiers being incorporated into Kenyan police units in recent days.

According to one reliable VOA source in Nairobi, troops from southern Sudan, being trained by the Kenyan military, were deployed to the restive Rift Valley in western Kenya last week, dressed in GSU uniforms.

Since late December, tens of thousands of people from President Kibaki's ethnic Kikuyu tribe have been chased from their homes in the Rift Valley by other ethnic groups resentful of what they say is Kikuyu domination of Kenyan politics, land ownership, and economy.