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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 January 2008, 15:09 GMT
Survivors recall church inferno
A Kenyan woman outside the Kenya Assemblies of God Church in Eldoret, 01 January 2007.
Eldoret has seen some of the worst post-election violence

A Kenyan mother escaped from Tuesday's church arson attack in the town of Eldoret, only to see her young child tossed back into the flames.

BBC correspondent Karen Allen spoke to the woman who had managed to climb through the window of the burning church with her three children, the youngest, aged three, in her arms.

"As she climbed through the window, the attackers were on the other side - they grabbed her baby and threw it back in. The child died in the inferno," our correspondent told BBC News 24.

The smell of smoke still hung in the air more than 24 hours after the attack, in which 30 people were burnt to death while trying to shelter from the violence that broke out over the disputed results of last week's election.

Near the entrance lay the charred mattresses which the attackers had doused with paraffin and set alight - before barring the door.

"You get a sense of how much panic there must have been," our correspondent says.

"Every so often you see an item - a shoe or a cooking pot - that give some indication that people were living here."

Some of the clothing was child-sized. At least half of those who died were children.


Some people have been returning to the church to retrieve their possessions. People have gone into Eldoret town or other churches where they feel they may still be safe.

Patrick Nongyeza, head of the Red Cross team at the site, says the country has been numbed by recent events.

"In Kenya we have never seen this, especially in a church compound," he said.

"This is the first time we experience something of this nature, of that magnitude."

Several hundred people, mainly from President Mwai Kibaki's Kikuyu ethnic group, are thought to have been sheltering in the church.

George Karanja told the Associated Press he had helped pull 10 people from the flames, but was not able to save his 11-year-old nephew.

"He was screaming, 'Uncle, uncle!'... He died," said Mr Karanja.

A mob angry about election results which the opposition claims were rigged doused the Kenya Assemblies of God church near Eldoret with petrol before setting it on fire, survivors and police told the news agency AFP.

"The mattresses that people were sleeping on caught fire. There was a stampede, and people fell on one another," said Mr Karanja, 37.

I am at an uncle's house about 10 minutes from town - the nights are marked by gunfire, smoke, screaming
Chemu Mungo, Eldoret resident

Some of the bodies were burned beyond recognition, Abbass Gulled, secretary general of the Kenyan Red Cross told AFP.

A local reporter at the scene told Reuters news agency that a group of youths had come to the church, overpowered the boys who were guarding it and torched the building.

'Vigilante gangs'

Eldoret has a history of inter-ethnic conflict and has seen some of the worst violence since the victory of incumbent President Mwai Kibaki was announced on Sunday, in the poll which international observers said was flawed.

Houses are being burned. It is too dangerous to go outside and count the dead
Father Paul Brennan, Catholic priest, Eldoret

Correspondents say that over the past few days hundreds of Kikuyus in the Eldoret area have been taking shelter in churches and around the town's police station.

Residents of the town who have contacted the BBC have described an atmosphere of fear, with people taking shelter as homes are set on fire and gangs of armed youths loot properties.

"We've been unable to sleep soundly the last few nights. I am at an uncle's house about 10 minutes from town. The nights are marked by gunfire, smoke, screaming," 22-year-old Chemu Mungo told the BBC.

"Last night, we had about 20 women and children, most of the Kalenjin tribes, take refuge in my uncle's house because where they lived houses were being burnt and they felt unsafe."

An estimated 250 people have died in the violence that erupted following the controversial re-election of President Kibaki, according to police and journalists across the country.

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