Kenya accused of role in missionary's murder

Human rights campaigners and members of the Catholic clergy say they fear the brutal murder in Kenya of the American missionary, Fr John Kaiser, was politically motivated. The body of the outspoken priest, who accused Kenyan government ministers of crimes ranging from rape to land theft, was found on the roadside outside Naivasha, 50 miles north-west of Nairobi, at dawn on Thursday. He had been shot in the head.

Human rights campaigners and members of the Catholic clergy say they fear the brutal murder in Kenya of the American missionary, Fr John Kaiser, was politically motivated. The body of the outspoken priest, who accused Kenyan government ministers of crimes ranging from rape to land theft, was found on the roadside outside Naivasha, 50 miles north-west of Nairobi, at dawn on Thursday. He had been shot in the head.

"He had been told by people in government to be careful and that his life was in danger," said Sister Nuala Brangan, who visited the murder scene on Thursday. He had a licensed gun and had asked Masai warriors to protect him, she added.

Fr Francis Mwangi, the last known person to see Fr Kaiser alive, said he had seemed "very tired and worried" the night he disappeared. "He didn't look the usual jolly guy I know. I tried to bring up a conversation but he seemed very agitated."

Kenyan police have started a murder investigation.

Fr Kaiser, originally from Minnesota and a former US soldier, was a vociferous civil rights campaigner who made enemies of many senior politicians during his 36-year stay in Kenya.

His body was found 30 metres from his Toyota pick-up, which had been damaged and driven into a gully. A bloodstained axe was found in the back of the vehicle and one window was broken. The force of the gun blast spread brain matter over a wide distance, suggesting he was executed standing up.

While a shotgun found by the priest's feet is believed to have been his own, police have ruled out suicide as a possible cause of death.

Last year he told an inquiry into the 1994 clashes in Rift Valley province that "all big people in the government are involved in land grabbing".

He claimed that two government ministers, Nicholas Biwott and William Ole Ntimama, encouraged the tribal killings by sending Maasai warriors to Israel for commando training. The "commandos" were subsequently used in violent land evictions, the priest claimed. Mr Biwott has also been accused of involvement in other high-profile murders in the past.

The cleric also brought to light allegations last year that another government minister, Julius Sunkuli, raped his underage cousin. Mr Sunkuli has denied the charge and is currently on trial. The cabinet minister, who has not resigned his post, was once reported as saying: "Fr Kaiser hates me like poison."

The Kenyan government tried to deport the vociferous priest last year in what was seen as an attempt to silence him but withdrew the order following protests from human rights groups, the Catholic church and the US embassy.

"He wasn't murdered for his money or for saying mass or the rosary. Given his profile and conviction for the truth, it seems likely that one of these cases contributed to his death," said Sister Brangan, who was arrested last April after taking part in a debt cancellation rally.

Fr Kaiser's body was taken to Nairobi yesterday for an autopsy. The US ambassador to Kenya contacted the Attorney-General, Amos Wako, to offer any possible assistance, an embassy spokesman said. An FBI officer has already started to work on the case.

The Catholic archbishop of Nairobi, Ndingi Mwana a'Nzeki, said he was not ruling out state involvement in the killing but had been personally assured by government sources there would be "no cover-up". Fr Kaiser was "a strong character who lived a simple life with his people", he said. "He just said what he thought about what was right and wrong."

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