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Terrified Kenyans flee troubled west

Thousands of terrified refugees flee western Kenya trying to escape an explosion of post-election ethnic violence over the past week.

world Updated: Jan 06, 2008 10:38 IST

Thousands of terrified refugees under armed escort fled western Kenya on Saturday in buses that streamed down roads strewn with downed power lines, burnt-out vehicles and the corpses of others killed trying to escape an explosion of post-election ethnic violence over the past week.

Behind the fleeing busloads, thousands more huddled at church compounds and a police station in the city of Eldoret as wailing relatives tried to identify hacked, burned and strangled family members in a mortuary so full of bodies they lay piled wall-to-wall across bloody floors.

"We are defending democracy," said one man in Cheptiret, Bernard Kimutai, trying to explain the ethnic violence unleashed across Kenya after a presidential vote that the opposition claims President Mwai Kibaki stole.

At Cheptiret, 20 kilometres south of Eldoret, bus after packed bus mostly carrying people from Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe, drove slowly past soldiers loyal to the president who stood guard at a roadblock. Hours earlier, a machete-wielding mob had controlled the roadblock.

Wide-eyed passengers pointed out the windows, hands covering their mouths, as they looked at two bodies lying in the dirt on the roadside next to the charred hulk of a white minibus.

The two slain men had been pelted with stones by Kalenjin mobs several days earlier and then set ablaze, said Kimutai, an ethnic Kalenjin who said he was a human rights worker. "They failed to identify themselves properly, and then tried to run," he said.

The dispute between Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga over who won a bitterly contested Dec. 27 presidential vote has ignited some of the worst ethnic unrest in Kenya's history.