Agence France Presse
Published — Friday 21 December 2012
Last update 22 December 2012 9:49 pm
NAIROBI: At least 39 people including women and children were hacked to death and their homes set ablaze in an attack Friday on a remote village in Kenya’s southeastern coastal region, where deadly tribal violence also erupted earlier this year.
Police attributed the killings to a disarmament operation that stoked long-simmering tensions between rival communities in the Tana river delta area, but they could also be linked to the March election, the first since Kenya was gripped by deadly violence after the December 2007 vote.
The raid on Kipao village in the Tana delta in the early hours “unleashed terror” on the inhabitants, who were hacked as their huts were set on fire, police said.
39 people were killed in all — 30 villagers and nine assailants.
Pictures posted on the Twitter feed of the Red Cross, which said earlier that 30 people had been killed, showed the charred walls of mud huts still standing, their thatched roofs reduced to nothing.
“I can confirm 39 people have been killed early this morning, during tribal clashes,” Coast province police chief Aggrey Adoli told AFP. “Thirteen are children, six women and 11 men all from the Orma community. The other nine are militiamen from the Pokomo community.”
He said police are still hunting for the killers of the villagers, who are from the Orma tribe and are mainly herders.
The Red Cross said its rescue teams were tending to the wounded, some 30 of whom were in a critical condition. It gave no total figure for the number of people injured.
A reporter who visited some of the hospitals which took in the injured said he saw people mostly suffering machete wounds.
In August and September more than 100 people were killed in violence between rival communities living along the Tana river, whose muddy red waters are flanked by dense vegetation.
Police were unable to stop the violence between the Orma and the Pokomo — who are mainly farmers — and some 10 officers were killed. Around 1,000 men from the special police forces had to be deployed to restore order.
Relations have long been fraught between the two communities, with conflicts flaring intermittently over access to land and water points. Observers who saw the violence in August and September however said the raids were very well organized and some of them involved militia from other areas.
Tensions resurfaced in the past few days during a disarmament operation.
“There has been tension in the last two days over an order to have communities surrender arms, some were feeling the government was lenient on one side,” a police source said.
But the violence could also be linked to the March 4 election, as Kenyans normally vote along ethnic lines and if a significant number of people were forced out of the region it could have an impact on results there.
Kenyans are set to choose a successor to President Mwai Kibaki, who is not running again, as well as new lawmakers, governors and local officials.
The last elections in December 2007 were followed by the worst outbreak of violence Kenya has seen since independence, shattering the country’s image as a beacon of regional stability. The unrest killed at least 1,100 people and displaced more than 600,000.
Traditionally however, violence linked to elections has tended to take place before the actual polls.
Two presidential running mates, Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, 51, and his deputy, ex-minister William Ruto, 45, must stand trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for their alleged role in the 2007-08 unrest.