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Kenya: Ruto says starvation deaths of pastor's followers akin to 'terrorism'

Kenyan President William Ruto   -  
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Kenyan President William Ruto on Monday promised action against "terrorist" cults that "use religion" after the deaths of 58 followers of a cult in the east of the country sparked a debate over security and legislative loopholes against such organisations.

Search operations were continuing on Monday in the Shakahola forest near the coastal town of Malindi, where dozens of bodies have been exhumed from mass graves in recent days.

A total of 58 people are "confirmed dead", Kenya's police chief Japhet Koome said on Monday. "This includes bodies exhumed and those who died on the way to the hospital," he said.

The victims are followers of the Good News International Church led by Paul Mackenzie Nthenge, according to court documents seen by AFP, a "pastor" who advocates fasting to "meet Jesus". The latter was initially presented by the police as Makenzie Nthenge.

Accused of leading his followers to death, he surrendered to the police and has been in custody since 14 April (BIEN 14).

"What we have seen in (...) Shakahola is akin to terrorists (sic)," said William Ruto, speaking at a graduation ceremony for prison officers in central Kenya.

"Terrorists use religion to promote their heinous acts. People like Mr Mackenzie use religion to do exactly the same thing," he continued.

He said he had "asked the responsible agencies to take up the issue and get to the root and the bottom of the activities of religions and people who want to use religion to advance a shady and unacceptable ideology".

- "Fasting to death" -

For several days, investigators have been turning over the soil on more than 300 hectares of forest where the followers of the International Church of Good News were gathering.

No details are available on the condition of the bodies or how long they were in the mass graves.

According to the Kenyan Red Cross, "so far 112 people have been reported missing" at its search office there.

Some followers are still present in the forest. Twenty-nine people have been recovered, according to Japhet Koome.

Hussein Khalid, a member of the Haki Africa organisation who had warned about the actions of the Good News International Church, called for more security forces to "go inside (the forest) and rescue these victims who are fasting to death".

- Security breaches -

These macabre discoveries raise many questions about the attitude of the authorities, who knew about this "pastor" for several years.

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