Witness in Ruto trial describes church torching

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The first witness to testify in the International Criminal Court trial of Kenya’s deputy president described Tuesday how a mob of youths torched a church where 2,000 people had sought refuge from postelection violence.

The burning of the Kenyan Assemblies of God church in the Rift Valley village of Kiambaa was one of the most notorious incidents in the violence that left more than 1,000 dead across Kenya after the 2007 national vote. A commission of inquiry found that 28 people were killed there.

Deputy President William Ruto and radio broadcaster Joshua Arap Sang have pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, persecution and deportation for allegedly orchestrating violence after the election.

The woman testifying Tuesday was identified in court only as witness P0536 and her face and voice were distorted in video images. Prosecutors claim that there has been widespread intimidation of witnesses before the trial.

The witness said thousands of youths from the Kalenjin tribe, armed with spears, machetes and arrows, descended on the church where Kikuyu tribe members were sheltering.

Before the election, Kalenjin youths also had threatened Kikuyus, she said.

She told the court a local political candidate was in the mob carrying a jerry can and that the youths barricaded the church doors shut with bicycles, threw stones and fired arrows at the windows and then torched the building on Jan. 1, 2008.

“We were all trying to find a way to escape,” she told judges. “I was carrying my small child . and I tried to escape. I threw the child out of the window.”

Presiding judge Chile Eboe-Osuji adjourned the trial early for a 90-minute lunch break as the witness was overcome with emotion. She was due to continue her account of the massacre in the afternoon session.

The witness did not directly tie either Ruto or Sang to the church attack, but prosecutors say both defendants were part of a Kalenjin conspiracy to attack perceived supporters of their political rivals after the election.

Both Ruto and Sang portray themselves as men of peace who tried to ease ethnic tensions around the election.

At elections earlier this year, Ruto joined forces with former political rival Uhuru Kenyatta and the pair were elected deputy president and president respectively.

ICC prosecutors also have charged Kenyatta with involvement in violence after the 2007 election. He is due to go on trial in November.

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