Cabinet minister William Ruto was on Thursday among Rift Valley leaders who joined the debate on the alleged rearming of militias in the province ahead of the 2012 election.
Mr Ruto, the Agriculture minister and one of the most influential politicians in Rift Valley, described the reports as “rumours”.
However, clerics and other leaders urged the government to take the claims seriously, saying the country could be plunged into worse chaos than was witnessed early last year.
Bishop Stephen Kewasis of the Anglican Church, Kitale Diocese, warned Kenyans that they were digging their own graves and called for urgent investigations.
And Bishop Cornelius Korir of the Eldoret Catholic Diocese said all Kenyans stood to lose if there was fresh violence.
Roads minister Franklin Bett also called for investigations, saying those making the arms claims should be questioned.
Chief mediator Kofi Annan on Wednesday said he had raised the same issue with top Kenyan leaders and said he had been informed that there was an “increased level of criminality” in parts of the country, which was being dealt with.
The international media this week as well as the Daily Nation’s own investigation disclosed that residents were buying guns, allegedly to protect themselves should violence recur.
Mr Ruto represents Eldoret North, the epicentre of ethnic violence in the last election and where more than 200 people were killed and thousands displaced.
In all, 1,133 people were killed and 650,000 evicted from their homes, mainly in Rift Valley, in the ethnic violence that erupted after a dispute over the presidential results of the 2007 election.
“Whoever is creating these rumours is doing the country a disservice as the rumours will only create tension and anxiety,” Mr Ruto said on Thursday.
Answering questions from reporters outside his Kilimo House office, the minister said: “It is very dangerous for people to make such unsubstantiated rumours about citizens arming themselves.”
He asked Internal Security minister George Saitoti to issue an official statement regarding the claims.
Prof Saitoti has already done so, denying there was a rearming of militias and saying the government was prepared to defend everyone.
There have been reports of gun-runners doing booming business selling AK-47 and G3 rifles to different communities in the province.
Mr Ken Wafula, the executive director of the Centre for Human Rights, an Eldoret-based organisation which campaigns for peaceful co-existence among communities, called on the government to act quickly. “We have reports that communities are arming themselves,” he said.
There is relatively easy access to illegal weapons in Rift Valley, with reports that the border region between East Pokot and Baringo had become a market for arms where an AK-47 rifle, an automatic, military weapon, retails for as little as Sh25,000.
Government officials at national and local levels have denied there is any rearming going on. Mr Bett said the claims must be swiftly investigated since trading in guns is not like selling “mandazi”.
Speaking by phone, Mr Bett said the organisations making the allegations should record a statement with the police and if they fail to produce evidence, they should be prosecuted.
“To inform the world that people are buying guns in preparation for the 2012 General Election is not a simple matter and the State should question the people behind the claims,” the minister said.
Bishop Kewasis said the thousands of illegal arms in cattle rustling-prone areas of the North Rift region could easily find their way into wrong hands and result in loss of lives and property.
“The trend is very dangerous and the intelligence arms of the government should move fast,” he said.
Some residents in North Rift, where the post-election violence was at its worst, have also expressed unease over reports that the government would hand over the Waki list suspects for trial by the International Criminal Court at The Hague.
The Provincial Administration played down the reports and assured locals of security. “There should be no panic since all is well in the area. We have not received any reports that communities were arming against each other,” said Mr Alex ole Nkoiyo, the Wareng district commissioner.
His counterpart in Eldoret East, Mr Charles Mukele, also denied the reports.
Their fears have been heightened following reports that some politicians and businessmen, some possibly from the Rift Valley, could be handed over to the ICC in The Hague for trial over last year’s violence.
The government has been beefing up security presence in the most violence-prone parts of the province. Additional Administration Police officers have been deployed and the IDP camps ordered closed by on Friday.
Reported by Muchemi Wachira, Barnabas Bii and Peter Ng’etich