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Kenyan Press Report Describes Sharp Rise in Killings by Police - 2002-01-14

In Kenya, a controversial press report Monday describes a sharp rise in the number of police killings in the country. Nine out of every 10 Kenyans who were shot dead last year are said to be victims of the police.

According to Kenya's Daily Nation newspaper, police shot and killed 232 people last year - 10 times as many as criminals did.

Over the last five years, six out of every 10 Kenyans shot dead were killed by police, the paper says, quoting a confidential study by medical and legal experts. Those killed were either robbery suspects or, according to the newspaper, "innocent victims of trigger happy police officers."

The paper refuses to reveal its sources. Catherine Gicheru, news editor at the Daily Nation, says some the report's authors work in government and cannot be identified for fear of reprisals.

Police spokesman, Peter Kimanthi, rejects the report because its authors did not consult the police who, he said, are the official custodians of data on crime. "To me, it is a very selfishly written report," he said. "The objective is simply to malign the name of the Kenya police force and the government at large. So we are not taking it seriously. We are treating it with the contempt that it deserves. If they were serious about telling Kenyans and the world the true state of affairs in this, they would have come to us. So I think it was unfair, it was intentional and it is malicious."

Kenya's police force has faced mounting criticism in recent years. Relatives and human rights groups accuse them of being too ready to use their guns when catching criminals. The police say their job has become increasingly difficult because of the massive inflow of illegal firearms into Kenya.

Ms. Gicheru of the Daily Nation agrees that Kenya's poorly paid police force does face a number of frustrations. "You could say it's trigger happy," she said. "I think also there's a lot of frustration within the force and this can be attributed to many other things not only that. Maybe lack of equipment, lack of support, lack of exposure sometimes. They are frustrated because anyway the people they are supposed to guard, the public, themselves don't really look up to them. They are not really respected."

Human rights groups are lobbying for the establishment of an independent body to investigate the police. They argue that the police cannot be relied upon to investigate themselves.