Fighting between communities over grazing land in northern Kenya's Isiolo region has led to at least 10 deaths and the displacement of some 2,000 people in the past three days, according to local leaders and residents.
The fighting, mainly between the members of the Turkana and Somali communities, with some Borana siding with the Somalis, has disrupted transport and trade networks and hampered access to farms and communal grazing areas.
The camel milk trade has been affected, with traders who take the milk to Nairobi daily unable to access grazing fields. Residents have also reported a shortage of charcoal due to lack of access to trading centres.
The areas most affected by the fighting are Burat, Mulango, Kilimani and Kampi ya Juu, all in Isiolo central division. A similar conflict, involving the Gabra and Borana communities in Moyale, near the Ethiopia-Kenya border, recently displaced several thousands of people.
At a funeral in Isiolo's Kambi Oda cemetery on 26 December, Mohamed Kuti, the minister for livestock production, said those fuelling the fighting should be arrested and those with guns disarmed. According to police sources, no arrests have been made so far.
"These clashes must be brought to an end immediately. Many lives have been lost; many people have abandoned their homes. Security officials, the entire [district] security committee team must be moved and punished for failing to do its work," Kuti said.
Residents of the affected areas told IRIN tension remains high as more families continue to flee - most of them to Isiolo town - fearing more attacks. Some 2,000 members of the Turkana community are reported to have arrived in the town in recent days.
Isiolo has seen an escalation in violence since October 2010, with analysts pointing to the town's planned economic expansion as well as elections due in 2012 as key drivers of conflict.
Members of the warring communities have traded accusations over who is responsible.
Paul Mero, a Turkana leader, said members of his community had been forced to abandon their homes, farms and businesses. “Bandits are being used to force the Turkana to leave; we are being fought to pave way for other people to settle on our ancestral land… It is not fair that we are blamed and accused of being cattle rustlers."
Photo: Noor Ali/IRIN
|No milk today... The fighting has disrupted transport links in Isiolo|
Dozens of Somali herders and families from areas affected by fighting have also been displaced and are unable to access grazing fields.
Somow Mohamed, a Somali elder, told IRIN he was unable to reach Burat, where his camels are grazing and was only communicating with his herders by phone.
"The road to Burat has been blocked by armed Turkanas. We cannot access our animals," Mohamed said. "I am informed some of my camels are sick but I cannot take the drugs required to treat them."
He added that more than 1,000 families who depended on camel milk to sustain their families were now desperate. "These families depend on the sale of camel milk to buy food and clothes, [and] pay fees and drugs for those who are sick; now they have no option but to beg. We have been forced to become beggars by these bandits," Mohamed said.
Local councillor Ekuam Terru said attacks on the Turkana were political: "We have suffered for many years as a result of politics. The situation is now worse because it is now a combination of politics and campaigns to take away the land, sand and farms of the Turkana."
House set ablaze
Halima Mohamed, a resident of Kambi Garba, said she lost her belongings when her house was set ablaze.
"I am now staying with relatives. My house was burnt; all my clothes, my children's clothes and books got burnt; now I am an internally displaced person… The government should help us the same way it has been helping those who were displaced by the post-election violence [of 2007-2008]."
Mary Ekuot, a mother of five, is among 200 displaced Turkanas at Kambi ya Juu Church. She said she fled her home on the night of 25 December after a neighbour informed her that youths from the rival community were planning to attack her village that night.
"I left my house to spend the night in the open at the church so as to escape death; I have witnessed many deaths this year," Ekuot said. "When my neighbour informed me that a group of youths from her tribe were planning to attack us on Sunday [22 December] night, I left immediately to save my life and my children."