The Kenyan government has announced its intention to make the Shakahola forest a "place of memory", dedicated to the more than 250 people found dead so far in this site where the followers of an evangelical sect advocating extreme fasting met. .
The discovery of mass graves for nearly two months in this forest area of the Kenyan coast, near the town of Malindi, has shaken Kenya, a very religious country in East Africa.
Police believe that most of the bodies exhumed are those of followers of the sect of Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, a self-proclaimed pastor of the Good News International Church and who advocated fasting to death for " meet Jesus". He is being prosecuted for "terrorism".
"The Shakahola forest...where serious crimes were committed will not remain as it was," Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki said in a statement on Tuesday.
"The government will turn it into a national memorial, a place of remembrance so that Kenyans and the world will remember what happened here," he added.
Investigators exhumed nine new bodies on Tuesday, bringing to 251 the still tentative death toll from what has been dubbed the "Shakahola Forest Massacre". A total of 95 people have also been rescued so far in the forest, according to the police.
Mr Kindiki said the investigations have been extended beyond the original 325 hectares to an area now covering almost 15.000 hectares.
The autopsies carried out revealed that most of the victims died of starvation, probably after having followed the sermons of Paul Nthenge Mackenzie.
Some victims, including children, were however strangled, beaten or suffocated, according to these autopsies.
Former taxi driver who created his "church" and proclaimed himself a pastor, Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, 50, is being prosecuted for "terrorism". He has been in detention since he surrendered to police on April 14, after the first intervention of the police in the forest.
At least 35 people suspected of being involved have been arrested, police said.
This massacre caused a great stir in Kenya and placed the authorities under the fire of criticism for not having prevented the actions of Pastor Mackenzie, yet arrested several times for his extreme sermons.
He also revived the debate on the supervision of worship in this predominantly Christian country which has 4.000 "churches", according to official figures.
President William Ruto has established a task force to "review the legal and regulatory framework governing religious organizations".
The Editorial Board (with AFP)