/ 20 March 2008

Deaths mount in Kenya over cattle theft

Seventeen people were killed in Kenya’s Rift Valley region over the past 36 hours, where cattle theft has fanned tribal animosity, bringing the toll to 25 in three days, police said on Thursday.

Cattle raiders killed 12 villagers and police retaliated, killing five of the attackers in the Baringo district at about 6pm local time on Wednesday, said regional police commander Joseph Ashimalla.

”Seven of those killed in Baringo are members of the same family while the other five are their neighbours who were shot as they responded to their distress call.”

”Five others were bandits shot dead during an encounter with our officers last evening [Wednesday]. Many others escaped with injuries. We are still pursuing them,” Ashimalla said.

”It is unfortunate that innocent lives were lost. But we are pursuing the raiders,” he added.

Ashimalla said at least 12 villagers, including four women, were admitted to a nearby hospital, some of them with bullets lodged in their bodies.

The attack brings to 25 the number of people killed in recent days in rustling incidents that have ripped open animosity among Turkana, Samburu and Pokot pastoralist communities.

Late on Tuesday, raiders killed eight people in a nearby district.

The deaths were not directly linked to the disputed December 27 elections that set off unrest in the country, which has more than 1 500 dead and hundreds of thousands displaced, but the political crisis has exacerbated many local feuds.

The dire economic impact of two months of tribal killings and police raids has also led to increased crime and heightened tensions between rival communities of herders and farmers.

The fresh killings came after Kenyan lawmakers on Tuesday backed the power-sharing deal reached on February 28 but warned that land and ethnic disputes need urgent attention.

Police vowed to crack down on the attackers who have spread panic in the impoverished areas that were initially affected by violence that started when Orange Democratic Movement leader Raila Odinga accused President Mwai Kibaki of rigging.

”We are very vigilant … police will make sure that law and order is restored in some of these affected areas. We will stop at nothing,” police spokesperson Eric Kiraithe said.

Meanwhile, police announced charging five people with arson linked to post-election violence near the Rift Valley town of Eldoret, a day after a United Nations rights panel said poverty and impunity fuelled the unrest.

”The five will be charged with wilfully and unlawfully setting fire to buildings including food stores and dwelling houses. This is a felony and if found guilty the five are liable to imprisonment for life,” Kiraithe said in a statement. — Sapa-AFP