KENYA: Bishop talks with Muslims about threat to world sports event

March 10, 2007

Anglican Bishop Julius Kalu of Mombassa is confident the World Cross-Country Championships on March 24 will be peaceful, despite talk of threats to disrupt the event by some Muslims after government arrests of some Kenyans as terror suspects.

"There should be no course for alarm," Kalu told Ecumenical News International on 7 March from Mombassa, where the event organized by the International Association of Athletics Federation is to take place. "We [other religious leaders] are discussing the matter with the Muslims and I can assure you it will be peaceful."

During the past month, protesting Muslims in the mainly Islamic coastal city of Mombassa warned they would hold demonstrations on the day of the competition to express their disapproval of what they deem is government harassment of followers of Islam.

They are demanding the government release Kenyan Muslims held in Somalia and Ethiopia on suspicions of engaging in terrorism. In January, Kenya deported 40 Somali refugees said to have links with leaders of the ousted Union of Islamic Courts rulers, triggering the anger of local Muslims.

But Kalu, who is leading talks between Muslims and other groups over the threat said; "The government has taken its stand. I think these issues can be discussed."

Bishop Isaiah Deye, the conference secretary of the Methodist Church of Kenya, said Muslim leaders had given assurances they will not disrupt the world sports event. He noted, however, "Their commitment is not to our satisfaction, but we are using all means available to avert a crisis."

Following the threats, the United States of America warned that the championships could be targets of terrorist attacks. It said extremists could launch unspecified attacks during the races, but Athletics Kenya, which governs the sport in the country, said such warnings are usual for big sports meeting like the one scheduled for Mombasa.

Some Muslim leaders say they will carry on with the demonstrations. Sheikh Mohammed Dor, the secretary general of Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya, described the terror warning as a lie, asserting that Muslims in the country are a threat to nobody.

"We are to demonstrate peacefully until our fellow Muslims are brought back from Somalia where they have been detained," he said in an interview.

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