- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2009

NAIROBI, KENYA (AP) - At least 24 people were killed overnight in central Kenya in fighting between villagers and members of a banned sect, police said Tuesday.

The residents of a village near the central Kenyan town of Karatina fought members of Mungiki because they have been extorting money from them, said Charles Owino, the deputy police spokesman.

“What I know is that majority of the dead are Mungiki members,” Owino told The Associated Press.

In a statement, police spokesman Eric Kiraithe said three people have been seriously injured in the violence and police have arrested 37 suspects. Police took machetes, axes and clubs from the suspects, Kiraithe said.

Initial investigations have found residents reacted when Mungiki tried to expel people who came from a neighboring district, Kirinyaga, because members of Mungiki had been lynched in Kirinyaga, Kiraithe said.

Kiraithe urged members of the public to stop “using criminal violence to resist crime.”

A Mungiki member told The Associated Press the group had been extorting money from businesspeople in the area with the full knowledge of the police until Wednesday last week.

Police then switched sides and backed residents, who lynched members of Mungiki, the member said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. She did not say why the police turned against them.

Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe said that Mungiki were, “trying to justify crime by mudslinging.”

“Nothing can justify crime from Munigiki and members of the public,” he said.

Banned in 2002, Mungiki is known for beheading some of its victims. It claims to have 2 million members in central Kenya and the Rift Valley Provinces, and advocates a return to tribal traditions and customs. Most of its members are from Kenya’s largest tribe, the Kikuyu.

The overnight violence took place in an area populated mainly by Kikuyus.

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