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Cable reveals how 2008 violence was organised

NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 2 – Latest US secret cables released by whistle blowing website Wiki Leaks document how the Party of National Unity (PNU) and the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) were racing against time in organising deadly violence even as former UN chief Kofi Annan mediated a peace deal in the country.

Detail of how ODM and PNU leaders were planning retaliation attacks are laid bare in confidential correspondences sent to Washington by US ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger at the height of the chaos that rocked the country soon after President Mwai Kibaki was declared winner of the hotly contested polls of 2007.

The cables name some of the country’s security forces of involvement in planning violence in support of the Party of National Unity at the time.

The cables reveal how some unnamed elements affiliated to PNU backed what the US Embassy refers to as "Forest Guards" militia which includes members of the Mungiki.

Some of the Mungiki gangs, the cables reveal, were being organised by some senior military officials (names withheld) who even unsuccessfully tried to persuade the Kenya Army to provide the gangs with the G3 rifles and helicopter support to the "Forest Guards" – the Mungiki.

The US diplomatic cables have also revealed how some 200 police officers who were based in Nyanza at the time were transferred when authorities feared they could leak vital security information in an apparent effort to conceal state planning and organisation of the violence.

"Kenya Police publicly stated that the transfers were routine, but police sources have since reported that the Provincial Police Officer (PPO) for Nyanza is on record as claiming that those being transferred were responsible for leaking police operational details to the opposition based on their Luo affiliation," the confidential cables state.

And adds that "The PPO also reportedly ordered his officers in charge to ensure the transfers took place no later than 22 February."

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Mr Ranneberger also reported to his superiors in Washington that some Provincial Police chiefs had even directed their station commanders to use force against protestors.

"On top of this came news last week from police sources that the PPO issued a stunning directive to his Station Commanders telling them that during any future political protests in the region, deadly force is immediately authorized," he wrote in the cables and added that the PPO had "assured the officers that any query as to the nature of the death or injury resulting from this order should be directed to him personally and that he would support the "victimized" officers."

The cables were authored at the time Mr Annan and other peace mediators were trying to convince both President Kibaki and ODM leader Raila Odinga who had contested the official presidential election results that favoured his rival.

At the time, Mr Ranneberger reported to Washington that "Kenya has been tense but remarkably calm since the end of January, thanks in large part to the progress being made in the Kofi Annan-mediated peace talks and the visit of the Secretary (Condoleezza Rice)."

But despite the high level peace talks that were being intensified at the time, Mr Ranneberger warned of more deadly attacks in case the mediation efforts failed.

"Tensions remain very high, however, and behind this calm facade lurks the potential for more ferocious, ethnically-motivated violence.  One sign is that ethnically-based forced evictions continue around Nairobi," the envoy warned.

"The pivot will thus be the outcome of the peace talks."

However he noted: "If a compromise is reached on power sharing that is seen as fair by all sides, support for organised violence is likely to ebb away.”

If not, the cable warned: "Then Kenya could see a wave of violence far worse than the unrest seen in January following the disputed election."

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Mr Ranneberger further warned that at the time, the embassy was aware of ethnic-based militiamen who were being regrouped to cause violence and civil unrest throughout the country.

This, Mr Ranneberger observed, was being organised by politicians and sympathisers from both the political divide – Mr Odinga\’s ODM and Mr Kibaki\’s PNU.

"It remains very difficult to confirm rumours that militias are being organised, but where there is so much smoke, there is likely to be fire, and the logic behind this phenomenon is compelling," he said in the leaked cable.

"Should the Kofi Annan-mediated peace talks fail, all sides want to be ready for the violent aftermath."

"Most difficult puzzles to solve is the extent to which such militias are truly militias, characterised by a discernable chain of command and requisite weaponry and training, versus mere youth gangs organised and bussed to a site on an ad hoc basis to engage in violence when it is in the interest of hardline leaders to have them do so," he observed at the time. "In either event, however, the results are violent and difficult to control."

Mr Ranneberger said some of the criminal gangs that were being organised by political, business and security agents were the notorious Mungiki and other quasi criminal elements mainly comprising former police officers and army personnel in the Rift Valley Province.

Criminal elements within youth groups in the Coast and Nyanza Provinces were also regrouping.

"There is a tradition of youth organising "in defence" of their communities," he added.

As a result of intelligence the US Embassy in Nairobi collected in relation to the planning and organization of violence, Mr Ranneberger opted to write to the then Police Commissioner Maj Gen (rtd) Mohammed Hussein Ali protesting the alleged intention to use excessive force against any form of demonstrations.

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"We have recently become aware that certain officers-in-charge have directed personnel under their command that "the immediate use of deadly force is authorised to quell any and all new political protests," the letter also attached in the leaked US cable states in part. 

It is not known if the Embassy did receive an acknowledgement of receipt of the letter or a reply from the then police commissioner.

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