Hundreds of farmers have attacked a village, killing at least 48 people in southeastern Kenya in an escalation of clashes between the farming and pastoral communities over land and resources, an official said.
Some people were burned to death in their houses, while others were hacked to death or shot with arrows, said Tana River region police chief Joseph Kavoo on Wednesday.
The majority of those killed were women and children, said area resident Said Mgeni. He said the attacks began Wednesday at dawn when a group of about 200 people belonging to the Pokomo ethnic group raided a village in the Riketa area and torched all the houses belonging to the Orma, a pastoralist community.
‘Kill them, kill them’
Three Orma men and a woman who survived the attack with wounds to the head, stomach and hands said the attackers were also armed with guns. The four were admitted to the Malindi district hospital.
Ali Algi, who had injuries on his head and a broken hand, said that they were attacked by hundreds of men.
"Most of us were asleep and others had woken up when the men came chanting `kill them, kill them' towards our village at about seven o'clock. They shot many people and then attacked others with pangas [machetes]. I was also shot on my right hand and then attacked with a panga on my head," he said.
"They left me when they thought I was dead because I was unconscious. That is how I survived."
Algi said that he witnessed men, women and children being shot and then beheaded and others being locked and burned inside their houses.
"I witnessed the whole ugly scene. They shot us and then attacked us with pangas to ensure that we are completely dead," he said.
Mgeni, who is in charge of a government fund for development in the constituency, said it was a retaliatory attack sparked by incidents last week when the Pokomo protested over Orma grazing their cattle in their farms, and farmers attacked the pastoralists and injured hundreds of their livestock.
The Orma then retaliated and killed two Pokomos over that altercation, Kavoo said. The two tribes clash perennially but death tolls have remained low through reconciliation meetings between the communities' elders, Kavoo said.
"We were making arrangements to finance peace campaigns and today we were even supposed to have a last meeting…ahead of the process, but this would now mean that we have to wait," said Mgeni.
A member of parliament representing a constituency in the district, Dhado Godana, said the retaliatory attacks could not be controlled on time, since the area is hard to reach.
"We had planned to meet and resolve the issue since that area is prone to conflict and the same may spill over to nearby areas," said Godana.
Claims of political motives
A witness, Mahmud Mohamed, who escorted the four to the hospital, said that grazing land was not an issue, and said the clashes are politically instigated.
"Whatever people are claiming to be grazing land is not true. These clashes have been there for the last 10 years and for this case, the men who attacked us came from a far place which is 50 kilometres to our village. In their village there is tight security and we cannot go there to graze without their permission," he said.
Mohamed claimed that they had reported the matter to police about the planned attack but nothing was done.
"We think that the government is biased and we know that this issue cannot be solved by the police because we always report such cases and nothing is done," he said.
Mohamed alleged that 56 people were killed — among them 30 women, 16 children and 10 men.
He also claimed that about 60 cows were slaughtered and thrown into River Tana.