The death toll from Monday’s bloody confrontation between police and Legio Maria adherents at Got Kwer shrine in Migori has reached eight, according to church officials.
Pope Lawrence Kalul, whose faction is headquartered at the shrine, said yesterday that the brutality meted out on church faithful had led to three more deaths, while two minors were still missing.
Migori County Commissioner Boaz Cherotich declined to comment on the matter despite the Monday evening reports that five people had succumbed to gunshot wounds.
Police confirmed that five people had died during the clashes while seven others, including a female police officer, sustained serious injuries. Early yesterday, the followers started making their way out of the shrine.
Those who could not manage to use public transport and motorbikes trekked back after word went round that there was an impending wave of fresh attacks.
County police commander Manaseh Musyoka had earlier stated that two people died during the confrontation while three others succumbed to gunshot wounds at Got Kweru dispensary where they were rushed for first aid.
“The five were part of individuals who confronted anti-riot police. They were taken to Migori County Hospital mortuary while the injured were transferred to Migori County Referral Hospital,” he told reporters.
Tensions started when members of a splinter faction led by Pope Raphael Adika held a prayer session at the shrine, sparking violent protest from his opponents.
Chanting “Legio opogore” (Legio Maria church is divided), the faction led by Pope Lawrence Kalul made their way from Jerusalem Amoyo to Got Kwer.
Unknown to Mr Adika and his entourage comprising armed police officers, Pope Kalul’s group was armed and lying in wait.
Police had to lob tear gas in the air and fire live bullets to repulse the surging crowd who pelted the convoy with stones. A saloon car was burnt to a shell while several other vehicles including a police van were smashed.
“The police constable was rushed to Lado Pharma Hospital for treatment after she was struck with an arrow on her back. There are five deaths recorded and seven other casualties,” Mr Muchungu said.
Church cardinal Chamalengo Ong’aw had accused Mr Adika’s faction of planning to cart away the remains of Melkio Ondetto, the church’s founder, to an unclosed location.
On his part, Mr Adika accused his rivals “of orchestrating the mess and piling the blames on me to brand me a warmonger.”
“I went there for prayers just like the rest but my team was met with violence. This is the third time they are engaging in bloody confrontations then accusing me of starting the war,” Mr Adika said at Jerusalem Amoyo where he retreated with his followers.
The protracted antagonism dates back to 1990 after the death of Melkio Ondetto. Last month, Mr Adika went to court to challenge the legitimacy of Mr Kalul as a pope.
The Kisumu-based cleric through his lawyer, Mr Thomas Kwanga, was seeking to terminate the appointment of Mr Kalul as the successor and legitimate leader of the church whose headquarters is in Got Kwer in Suna West constituency.
Mr Kalul, a long serving deputy of the late Ongombe, has termed Monday’s incident an attempt on his life by “political hirelings out to derail the church’s progress”.
“Those claiming legitimate leadership while sheltered in other camps are misleading the faithful,” he said.
After the death of Melkio Ondeto in 1992, Timotheo Blassio Atila became pope until his death in 1998.
The third pope, Mr Lawrence Chiaji, then took over until 2004 when he also passed on and Raphael Adika took over until 2009 when the wars for the control of the church began, pitting Mr Adika against the late Ong’ombe.
The two splinter groups claiming the papacy emerged, with one faction being led by Ong’ombe and the other by Raphael Adika.
In May 2019, the two leaders briefly ended their protracted antagonism before it erupted again after their hard line supporters refused to cede ground.