• Church founder died 27 years ago and was buried at the hill; every year since, in September, followers have a nine-day fellowship at the hill to commemorate his death.
• Last year during a similar ceremony, a vehicle was torched and several faithful injured when Adika faction attempted to access the site.
Rival Legio Maria church leaders have traded accusations at Monday chaos that claimed more than five lives at Got Kweru, a holy shrine where the church founder Melkio Ondetto was buried.
Speaking separately, one team was led by Pope Raphael Adika who spoke from Nyatike and the other by Pope Lawrence Ochieng’ from Got Kweru.
“This was the third time we have been repulsed from accessing our shrine despite coming on peacefully. We have cases in court which have given us orders to access place of worship,” Adika said.
Since 2009, the two factions have had long-standing court battles to ascertain the true leader of the church, with Ochieng’ taking over from Pope Romanus Ong’ombe who died earlier this year.
Ong’ombe and Adika have led separate factions, and despite his death and Adika’s team withdrawing two cases from court recently, the antagonism has been playing out.
Church founder Ondetto died 27 years ago and was buried at the hill which sits on about 100 acres in Suna West subcounty and has been considered holy ground.
Every year since in September followers have a nine-day fellowship at the hill to commemorate his death. This year's was to end on Monday before the chaos ensued.
Francis Limu, a cardinal allied to Ochieng’s faction, said since 2009 when Adika’s side was thrown from the site, three attempts to access the site have ended in chaos.
“We want police and Migori county commissioner Boaz Cherutich to explain why they allowed gangs to invade our peaceful prayers, fire in the air and lob teargas at us,” Limu said.
Ochieng’s faction has often accused Adika of leading a team that always wants to exhume the body of Ondetto and take it away.
Adika termed the claims as “utter nonsense and unfounded claims. We went to pray in peace”.
These claims have seen followers from both factions ready to protect and access the shrine even if it leads to death.
On Monday, both sides stood their ground despite police firing live bullets in the air, with some attacking each other.
When the dust settled, five people were dead with scores injured including police officers, with a car torched and several others vandalised.
Cherutich and Suna West police boss Wilson Nduati declined to comment on the matter.
Those injured, including a police officer, were admitted to Migori County Referral Hospital.
Last year during a similar ceremony, a vehicle was torched and several faithful injured when Adika faction attempted to access the site.
Edited by R.Wamochie