.BUNGOMA, Kenya (AP) – Dozens of scared children filed silently into the bare room, their eyes on the cracks in the floor. One by one, in low voices, they told of being tortured by the Kenyan army because they were suspected of aiding rebels. They told of being beaten and made to shake hands with corpses. They told of being forced to crawl through barbed wire tunnels and of genitals squeezed by pliers.
Then the children took off their shirts. White scars crisscrossed the dark skin on their backs like grains of rice. Some were still bleeding.
These children are among hundreds in western Kenya who have been terrorized, many twice over, first by a militia in their villages and then by the army sent to fight it. The militia forced children as young as 10 to become soldiers. In a widespread crackdown, the army then rounded up the children and thousands of adults and tortured them, human rights groups say.
The Associated Press interviewed some of the children in a detention center, brought in by a human rights advocate without the knowledge of government officials or the military. The children have been held since April on charges of promoting warlike activities. Their identities and location are withheld to protect them from reprisals.
In March, the Kenyan government sent its army to crack down on the Sabaot Land Defense Force militia, which is named after the Sabaot region. But instead of hunting down militia fighters where they hide in the forests of Mount Elgon, the army swept up thousands of men and boys from the surrounding villages.