NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 2 – Police have arrested the driver and loader of the oil tanker that overturned before bursting into flames on Saturday, killing at least 122 people who had gone to siphon fuel from it.,
The two were arrested on Monday morning and were being interrogated at the Rift Valley Provincial General Hospital.
“No charges have been preferred on them so far; our officers are interested to know the sequence of events and what actually happened,” Police Spokesman Erick Kiraithe said.
“They are recording statements with detectives and if a criminal element is found on their part, they will definitely go to court,” he told Capital News on telephone.
He said the driver had indicated that his truck had overturned at about 5.30 pm.
Within a couple of minutes, he said, the driver went to the nearest GSU camp and reported the matter.
“Of course there is no crime in doing that, but detectives are interested to know what happened after that because some of the officers he informed of the matter at the camp are among those killed,” he said.
It is understood that some 18 police officers from the camp and others from the nearest police station were at the scene when the tanker exploded.
They include traffic police officers, who were directing traffic.
When the tanker exploded, five officers were burnt to death and 11 others were seriously injured.
Some witnesses and victims in hospital had claimed that the officers were soliciting bribes before they allowed residents to siphon fuel.
“Those claims are far fetched. No police officer was soliciting for money. We have been able to talk to the officers in hospital and survivors. It is not true,” Mr Kiraithe defended and sought to explain the cause of the fire.
“It all started when a young man who had been denied access to the overturned truck lit a cigarette less than 100 metres from the truck,” he said.
The Police Spokesman said the man had been involved with an argument with GSU officers who were telling him not to get any closer to the tanker, because his clothes were soaked in petrol.
“They had argued and when the man was denied access, he sat down next to his jerry can and lit a cigarette that ignited the fire,” said Mr Kiraithe.
The man was among the 91 people who burned to death at the scene on Saturday night.
31 others died on the way to hospital or while undergoing treatment in Nairobi and other medical facilities in the Rift Valley region.
Nearly 130 others were still admitted to hospital with varying degrees of burns by Monday.
Rift Valley Provincial CID Chief Mohammed Amin revealed that they had still not located the owner of the oil tanker.
Kenya has declared a week of national mourning following the explosion and the Nakumatt fire, which have left nearly 150 people dead in fire tragedies.
An official statement from State House said President Mwai Kibaki, who was attending an African Union (AU) Summit in Addis Ababa, was cutting short his trip late Monday to join Kenyans in the national mourning.
“President Mwai Kibaki will be cutting short his official visit to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in solidarity with the Kenyans who lost their loved ones in the petrol tanker fire accident at Sachangwan area in Molo district, and to condole with those injured in the tragedy,” the statement read.
“President Kibaki, who had earlier sent his message of condolences on learning of the accident on Saturday evening, is expected in Nairobi today (Monday) afternoon.”