HONOLULU/NAIROBI: President Barack Obama has condemned violence in Kenya that left at least 45 people dead in renewed fighting between farming and herding communities that have a history of violent animosity.
The White House said in a statement that Obama urged the Kenyan government and police, along with leaders from the Orma and Pokomo communities, to end a deadly cycle of conflict.
At least 45 people were killed early yesterday when farmers from the Pokomo tribe raided an Orma village of cattle herders in southeastern Kenya. The violence appears to be driven by competition for water, pasture and other resources in the Tana River Delta.
The two groups have fought for years over access to grazing, farmland and water, but human rights activists blame the latest violence on politicians seeking to drive away parts of the local population they believe will vote for rivals in national elections due in March.
Kenyan police said yesterday they have meanwhile arrested 61 suspects behind the brutal attack in which villagers were hacked to death and their homes torched in yesterday's attack on Kipao village in the Tana River delta region. The area was also the scene of a deadly tribal violence earlier this year that had killed another 100 people.
Police attributed the killings to a disarmament operation in the area but the violence could also be linked to the election being held next March, the first since Kenya was gripped by deadly inter-ethnic killings after a December 2007 vote.
Police said the dead in Kipao included 16 children, five women and 10 men, along with 14 assailants.
"This latest incident represents a disturbing escalation of the tragic violence witnessed by these communities in August and September," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.
"With historic elections approaching in March, peace and stability are essential to Kenya's continued progress," Carney said.
Kenya votes on March 4 in its first election since the disputed 2007 vote, which led to the worst inter-ethnic violence since independence with more than 1,100 people killed and hundreds of thousands displaced.
Two of the candidates running for the presidency are Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who lost his bid in the 2007 vote, and Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for his alleged role in the violence, which shattered Kenya's image as a beacon of regional stability.
Hamisi Abdul, an Orma, said of the attack by the Pokomo: "They hacked everyone they came across with machetes and spears and shot indiscriminately at us, even as we scampered to seek safety in the bushes. It was confusion. We didn't know which direction they were coming from." Abdul, 27, is in hospital nursing two bullet wounds on his left arm and shoulder.