KENYA: Situation tense after renewed Tana River clashes
NAIROBI, 14 January 2002 (IRIN) - Five people were killed and two others seriously injured in renewed violent clashes on Saturday between the Orma and Pokomo communities in Tana River District, eastern Kenya, according to humanitarian and news sources.
A group of about 20 Orma pastoralists attacked the Pokomo farming community at Bondeni village, Galole Division, at 5am local time on Saturday, setting some 37 grass-thatched houses on fire, and stealing 300 goats and 100 head of cattle, Pius Murithi, Assistant Development Coordinator for the international nongovernmental organisation Caritas told IRIN on Monday.
Due to concerns that some Pokomos were planning a retaliatory attack, security in the area had been increased and a permanent detachment of the paramilitary General Service Unit (GSU) had been permanently stationed at nearby Wenje Division, the area police commander, Peter Muthige, told Kenyan radio (KBC) on Sunday.
"There are 100 to 150 GSU personnel, as well as local police and police reservists, providing security in the area," Murithi said.
Following accusations that guns held by Tana River police reservists had been used in the year-long clashes, 638 reservists were disarmed in late December. During a visit to the district on 4 January, however, Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi ordered Police Commissioner Philemon Abong'o to immediately return all confiscated weapons to the home guards.
"Since the guns were taken away there have been some bandit attacks, which have been blamed on reduced security," Murithi said.
Fears remain that some of the weapons taken from police reservists, if returned, could become available to one or other community for attacks on the other.
"The home guards have not been rearmed yet. If they were, it is difficult to know what would happen," Murithi added.
Civic leaders in Tana River on Sunday complained that District Commissioner James Waweru had failed to implement Moi's directive, the East African Standard newspaper reported. In a statement, local councillors said they had lost faith in Waweru, because he had failed to ensure the safety of Tana River residents.
During a public rally at Garsen town on 4 January, Moi blamed local leaders for failing to prevent and bring a swift end to the fighting.
District Officer Joseph Irungu said the reservists had not yet been rearmed because it was necessary to ensure that only responsible guards were allowed to carry guns.
"We have to vet the home guards before issuing them with the arms, to ensure those who had misused them in the past are not given back the guns," the East African Standard on Sunday quoted Irungu as saying.
Over 130 people have been killed in the district over the past year in violent clashes between the two communities over rights to land and water resources. While the Pokomo accuse the Orma of allowing livestock to encroach on their farms and of destroying their crops, the Orma complain that Pokomo farmlands are too close to the banks of the Tana river and prevent the herders from using the river to water their cattle.
During his visit to the district, Moi also called for the establishment of safe corridors to allow pastoralists access to watering points along the Tana River.
Murithi told IRIN, however, that there were already many stretches of the river where Ormas could water their cattle in safety. "There are plenty of water corridors, but the Ormas now want uninterrupted water access along the river," he said.
According to Murithi, problems between farmers and pastoralists have arisen when cattle belonging to Orma herdsmen have strayed into Pokomo farmlands, often while being driven to the river.
"It is very difficult for the Ormas to prevent some of their cattle from straying but the Pokomos should be fairly compensated for the damage," he said. There was, therefore, a need to establish a compensation system acceptable to both communities, Murithi added.
Although elders and chiefs from both communities were not talking to one another at the moment, efforts were being made to begin negotiations by using the local councillors (elected ward representatives) as intermediaries, Murithi said.
The fate of some 3,000 people displaced during an upsurge in violence in November was still unclear, Murithi said. Although many people sheltering in makeshift camps had dispersed, few had been able to return to their villages, as their homes had been burned down in the violence, he said.
Of about 1,200 people who had sought shelter at the Catholic mission at Tarasaa, only 200 remained, most of them having moved in with friends and relatives, he added.