(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Dozens killed in Tana River clashes

[Kenya] Flooding in Tana River District, eastern Kenya, after recent heavy rains and the Tana River bursting its banks.

At least 48 people have been killed in clashes between two communities in Tana River County in Kenya's Coast Province.

According to the provincial administration, an attack on Reketa Village on the night of 21 August left 31 women, 11 children and six men dead. The injured have been admitted to the local Mpeketoni Hospital, many of them with severe burns and deep cuts.

Tana River, with a population of about 240,000 according to the 2009 census, is largely occupied by the Orma and Wardei pastoralist communities and the Pokomo farming community; the Orma and Pokomo have a history of conflict over grazing land, pasture and water.

"This seems to have been a revenge attack following last week's [burning] down of several villages in Kilelengwani and Kau villages, mostly inhabited by the Pokomo community," said Robert Kitur, deputy regional police commander. "The [21 August] assailants, suspected to be Pokomo militiamen, also set ablaze over 100 houses and manyattas [settlements] besides killing several livestock belonging to the Orma community."

Local media reported attacks on the two villages of Kilelengwani and Kau on 13 August that left at least four people dead; reports say hundreds of cattle were killed during the clashes.

"Our officers are on the ground pursuing the attackers," Kitur said, although he could not confirm that any arrests had been made.

According to Sadik Kakai, head of disaster management for the Kenya Red Cross in Coast Province, more than 200 families from both communities are seeking refuge in nearby forests for fear of repeat attacks.

Following last week's attack, Coast Provincial Commissioner Samuel Kilele urged civilians in possession of illegal firearms to hand them over to the police; he also warned the warring communities of dire consequences should the fighting continue.

But local leaders have complained about the laxity with which security forces are addressing the issue. "Even after being alerted of an imminent attack, like in last weeks' case, no measures were taken by the security organs to address the situation until destruction was done and lives lost," said Samir Ngolo, a civic leader and Tana River County Council chairman.

According to Guya Galgalo, a local resident, requests by locals for additional police posts have not been heeded. He also blamed local politicians for stoking conflict in the area.

"If you go by history, you will find that such incidents usually occur whenever we approach an election," he said. "The reason behind it being to displace people in order to achieve a certain voting pattern that will favour particular politicians... The end result is always death and destruction."


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