Kenya prowls for coup plotters and looters in Nairobi rubble

Mountains of goods looted in last week's abortive Kenyan Air Force coup against the government of Daniel arap Moi are piled outside Nairobi's police stations.

The mountains get bigger and bigger as the police conduct house-to-house searches.

Soon these piles will be moved into the enormous plenary hall of the Kenyatta Conference Center, where owners may lay claim to them.

The bulk of the goods were looted from Nairobi shops, most of which were stripped clean by mobs, led by Air Force soldiers, which swarmed into Nairobi during the six-hour Aug. 1 breakdown of law and order.

Shopkeepers and traders, who lost at least $50 million of goods, got a big blow at the weekend when insurance companies said they could not meet claims.

The government will certainly not be able to pay compensation, so the losses will be devastating. Many shopkeepers, especially the smaller ones, will have to close down.

The rounding up of Kenya Air Force rebels - and of university students who also rioted - is still going on. The government is hunting for a chief planner or group responsible; for few here believe that the Air Force launched the coup on its own.

Over the weekend there was a shoot-out in Nairobi's Eastleigh area when rebels opened fire on an Army patrol from the roof of a bar. The soldiers were looking for looted goods. The area was closed off while the rebels were overcome.

Many Air Force men escaped to forests and bush around Nairobi, which security forces are combing.

Today Kenya is without an Air Force. Almost the entire force of some 2,500 men have been arrested and are being interrogated. Its expensive squadron of American F-5E fighter jets is lying at the Nanyuki air base without air or ground crews. Maintenance will soon be an urgent problem.

Kenya decided two years ago to build up its small Air Force because its neighbors had built strong air forces. The United States helped with planes and personnel as part of its Indian Ocean defense strategy.

Some analysts wonder aloud about links between the rebel Air Force, all very young men, and university students, some of whom took part in the Nairobi melee after being armed by the Air Force.

Such links are not difficult to fathom. The Air Force is an elite group - many are young men with university training and have many friends still in school. The airmen are imbued with the same radical - and some with Marxist - views held by some elements at the university.

Tensions in Kenya have been growing as the economy worsened. Unemployment is rising. The gap between rich and poor is growing in this free enterprise economy. Pockets of political dissidence have been growing, and increasingly making themselves heard.

When the coup struck Aug. 1, it was not difficult for the Air Force men and students to urge mobs from Nairobi's poor areas and shantytowns to loot the shops, chiefly owned by the Asian community, which is unpopular here.

Idealism did not prevent the some of the airmen and students from joining the looting rampage, which has all but wrecked the city center.

All classes and groups have praised President Moi for his role in ending the rebellion with calming and reassuring words and actions. He rushed from his home in Nanyuki, 100 miles outside Nairobi, to take charge at state house. Within hours of ending of the coup, he was on the air reassuring the people that he and his government were in full control.

Moi has inspected the damage several times. He called all the ambassadors and high commissioners together and gave a frank account of events; his speech was broadcast and quoted widely.

Few believe that a man like Ghana's Flight Lt. Jerry Rawlings would have emerged to run Kenya.

Attempts are being made to persuade Tanzania to send back a Colonel Adipo, a senior Air Force commander, who fled with three companions by air to Dar es Salaam on the afternoon of the abortive coup.

One member of Parliament, Koigi Wa Wamwere, was picked up by the police for questioning. The MP is a former Kenyatta-government detainee who is known for radical speeches.

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