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Kenya - A prominent white rancher and British aristocrat was charged with murder here on Thursday in connection with the killing of an undercover Kenyan game warden that has shaken the country's central Rift Valley.
Thomas Cholmondeley, son of the 5th Baron Delamere and heir to a massive farm put together by his great-grandfather, one of Kenya's earliest British settlers, pleaded not guilty after Nakuru High Court Justice Muga Apondi read out the charge before a packed, tense courtroom.
"Not true," the accused said when asked for his response to the charge which can carry a sentence of death by hanging on conviction.
Wearing wrinkled khaki trousers and a blue blazer over a light blue shirt, Cholmondeley looked pensively at the ceiling and made no eye contact with the largely hostile audience of local residents and Masai tribal elders.
Apondi ordered the accused to remain in police custody in the nearby town of Naivasha pending a May 6 hearing at which the results of ongoing police investigations into the slaying are to be presented and a trial date set.
Cholmondeley, 45, is charged in the shooting death of Simon Ole Sasina, a Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) officer who had gone to the Delamere farm on April 19 with two colleagues in plain clothes and in an unmarked vehicle to investigate allegations of an illegal bushmeat operation on the premises.
The accused, who has been in custody since the shooting, has told police that he shot Sisina, who was carrying a sidearm, after mistaking the warden for a thief.
"He does not deny that he shot somebody but he insists it was self-defence because he thought the officers were robbers," a police investigator said after Thursday's arraignment.
Sisina's KWS colleagues, however, maintain they identified themselves as game wardens and were in the process of arresting 16 farm employees they found skinning the carcass of a buffalo they say was illegally slaughtered when the shooting occurred.
Cholmondeley's lawyer, Fred Ogiambo, did not address the murder charge but called for the case to proceed apace given the intense publicity it has attracted.
"This is a case that has attracted a great deal of interest, there is a need to proceed with all due expediency," he told the judge.
The case has sent shockwaves through the Rift Valley centred around Naivasha, 90km northwest of Nairobi, highlighting the security fears of the landed European community and exposing festering colonial-era resentments. - Sapa-AFP