KENYA : Attacks on Foreigners Mar Africa's 'Island of Stability'

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A statement from the U.S. Embassy expressed "concern." But in truth, foreign diplomats assigned to Kenya say they are plenty more than concerned. They are scared.

This city's mean streets have engulfed the international diplomatic corps now. An employee of the United Nations was killed by carjackers last weekend. The same day, 10 armed hoodlums stormed the office of the Malawi High Commission and carried off $20,000 in cash and a stole a car.

In just five days, from Dec. 10 to 15, the U.S. Embassy reported attacks on four Americans: three carjackings and muggings plus a combined rape and carjacking. All the Americans were on government or development business in Kenya.

These incidents follow recent attacks on diplomats from India, Pakistan, Argentina and Britain.

In the case of Indian High Commissioner T. P. Sreenivasan, an armed gang bored a hole through a solid masonry wall to gain access to his home. Then, despite 24-hour guards, the gangsters broke through locks and bars and entered the envoy's home, beating him and his wife senseless and plundering the house.

"Thefts are one thing. But it appears now that these criminals believe that if they can beat you badly enough, you won't be able to identify them later," said one diplomat after talking with Sreenivasan at his hospital bed.

The attacks are an embarrassment for the government of President Daniel Arap Moi, who is struggling to salvage Kenya's international standing as an "island of stability" on the African continent. Corruption, random attacks on tourists and political repression have soiled this image.

Moi and his Cabinet argue almost daily that troubles here are exaggerated. That may be true, at least comparatively. But this becomes a harder case to make when foreign diplomats live lives of fear.

"We continue to be concerned about the escalating level of crime affecting foreigners and Kenyans alike in this country," the U.S. Embassy said this week in a statement to the Kenyan news media.

For a nation that depends on tourism and can only dream of fresh industrial investment, press notices like this are like finding termites in the foundation.

According to officials, the U.N. worker, a Kenyan national, was killed when driving home from a local hotel last Saturday night. His four-wheel-drive vehicle with U.N. license plates was stolen.

Among Americans, a development worker was accosted as she drove into her driveway on Dec. 10. She was driven away, raped and her car stolen. On Dec. 14, there were two carjackings involving Americans, one an executive of the U.S. Agency for International Development. On Dec. 15, an Embassy car with diplomatic license plates was carjacked.

Nairobi police said their records showed that 30 cars were stolen last weekend, nine of them carjackings on Friday night.

But attacks on diplomats have the unfortunate result of amplifying other assaults against foreigners. Particularly unsettling for Kenya are attacks on tourists, such as the roadside robbery of six Danish travelers last week as they drove in a safari caravan to the famed Masai Mara game reserve.

Moi has tried to shift suspicion to his political opponents for assaults on diplomats. It is suggested that his opponents have grown so desperate to weaken Moi after 18 years in power that they are trying to turn the world against him.

Most diplomats find this explanation farfetched, if not paranoid.

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