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Homicide Mystery Deepens in Case of Kenya ICC Witness

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The body of a man thought to be a witness in the International Criminal Court case against Kenya’s deputy president was found near his home last year, but doubts about the identity of the victim and unanswered questions about his alleged testimony now have deepened the mystery surrounding the killing.

The mutilated body, found in a river outside Eldoret, Kenya, was initially identified as that of Meshack Yebei, an alleged witness in the ICC case against Deputy President William Ruto. The ICC has charged Ruto and radio journalist Joshua Arap Sang with crimes against humanity for interethnic violence that followed the 2007 presidential election.

Recent media reports said Yebei was supposed to testify for the defense. Or was he?

Ken Wafula, director of the Center for Human Rights and Democracy, said that Yebei’s intentions were not entirely clear and that he might have been killed over money he was promised in exchange for his testimony.

“There were pending issues of unsettled promises" related to Yebei’s testimony, Wafula said, "so at the time of his disappearance or his death, he was neither a defense witness nor a prosecution witness because he was in the middle.”

The ICC originally approached Yebei to testify for the prosecution, but dropped him for tampering with other witnesses. Prosecutors have complained about the rampant bribery and intimidation of witnesses that they say also eroded the now-dropped ICC case against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who also faced charges of crimes against humanity.

But the Yebei story took another strange twist this month: Just as his relatives were preparing for his funeral, another family claimed the body was that of a man named Yusuf Hussein.

Ben Yebei, Meshack’s brother, denied there was any mistake about the victim's identity.

“These people had not reported anywhere that their person was missing," Ben Yebei said. He said his parents were "very down" but "are going to wait for the end results, because at this point you can not do anything if the body is under investigation.”

Hussein’s family declined to talk to VOA for this story. It's not clear what motive there would have been to kill Hussein — and Yebei’s whereabouts have not been accounted for.

Yebei's aunt, Rebecca, said a DNA test would reveal the truth.

“We are told to go for the DNA test, and I am very optimistic the results will be positive," she said. "I am convinced the corpse is Yebei’s. I believe the results will help identify Meshack.”

If it is Yebei, at least one mystery will be solved, but many more questions about what he may have known and who may have wanted him dead will remain unanswered.

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