"Executed" corpses in Kenyan bush terrify villagers

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KISERIAN, Kenya, Oct 24 (Reuters) A series of bodies found dumped in secluded bushland on the edge of Kenya's capital Nairobi has terrified locals and brought accusations of police executions in their war on the notorious Mungiki criminal gang.

Locals say more than a dozen corpses have turned up in recent weeks, thrown by the roadside or left in scrub.

The macabre discoveries have blotted an otherwise idyllic landscape, where rolling hills make way for jagged mountain ranges of thick brush and thorn trees, and gaggles of schoolgirls wander past Maasai herdsmen tending goats.

Left under the sun, some blood-soaked corpses have attracted hyenas, prompting fears the scavengers may go for children next.

Angry at suggestions they are behind the killings, police insist they use only legitimate means to hunt members of the quasi-religious Mungiki sect. It is blamed for a spate of beheadings and mutilations earlier this year that have added to a tense atmosphere in Kenya prior to December elections.

Yet past anti-Mungiki tactics -- including police raids on a Nairobi slum in June that killed more than 30 people -- have drawn accusations of extrajudicial killings from rights groups.

And some residents in Kiserian, a small town outside Nairobi, said the corpses they have seen in the bush seem to have died execution-style, with a single bullet to the head.

''The body I saw had a gunshot on the back of the head,'' said James Saradong, a 22-year-old who slaughters meat for a living.

Chewing on a twig, Saradong said between 16 and 20 bodies were discarded this month in the secluded area.

''People are saying the victims may have been brought alive and killed there. There's been talk of people being brought here screaming and then the crackle of gun shots,'' he told Reuters.

''People are afraid. They are going home very early because they fear being killed in that way,'' he said, adding: ''The police aren't interested. They just take the body away.'' POLICE FURIOUS Another local, a Maasai livestock trader too frightened to give his name, said an escaped prisoner had told villagers the police were bringing Mungiki suspects to the area.

''We think the victims are Mungiki because they are not from around here,'' he said. ''It's the police doing this because people saw police in official uniforms.'' The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights and other local civil groups are investigating the suspicious deaths.

The Oscar Foundation, which offers free legal aid, said it suspected the culprits belonged to a police squad called Kwe Kwe, a special unit tasked with tackling the outlawed Mungiki.

''They say the laws we have are very lax. It's hard to prove someone is a member of an outlawed sect. The police are frustrated.

I think that's why they have resorted to extrajudicial killings,'' said the foundation's executive director Kamau King'ara.

But police spokesman Eric Kiraithe was furious at the allegations, also widely repeated by the local press, that Mungiki suspects were being systematically killed and dumped.

''To suggest policemen would go on the rampage murdering people is most strange. This is a purely civilian police force -- we're not a guerrilla force, we're not bandits,'' he said.

Kiraithe blamed the allegations on politicking in the run-up to this year's presidential and parliamentary elections.

''During this period of political campaign people will go into overdrive. What we're seeing here is pure political propaganda,'' he told Reuters.

Kenyan police have for years been under scrutiny over their methods in fighting crime.

Mungiki, Kenya's biggest crime outfit, started in the 1990s as a semi-mystic group drawing its ranks mainly from the nation's most populous tribe, the Kikuyu.

With a strong grip on the minibus sector, it developed into an organised operation notorious for protection and extortion, and also offering muscle-for-hire to unscrupulous politicians.

REUTERS SG RK1540

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