KENYA: Tension high as hundreds flee clash-torn Laikipia

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Hundreds of civilians have fled Kenya's Rift Valley district of Laikipia, where fighting between two communities has resulted in deaths and at least 300 houses being burnt.

Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe said reinforcements and an investigating team of officers had been sent to the scene. According to him, the death toll was 14.

Tension remained high after three deaths at the weekend, causing more people to flee their homes. According to local leaders and officials of the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS), at least 3,000 people have fled their homes since the clashes began about three weeks ago.

The fighting, pitting members of the Turkana community against their Kikuyu counterparts, was allegedly sparked by the killing of a suspected cattle rustler.

Initially, those fleeing were living close to urban centres but residents said on 17 March that even pastoralists have started moving to the neighbouring districts of Samburu and Isiolo.

Julius Mutula, the Laikipia West district commissioner, said so far 670 people had been registered as displaced. However, KRCS officials put the figure at 2,650, saying the number could be higher as the displaced in rural areas had not been included.

Mutula said six primary schools had closed due to the violence and that officials from his office and the ministry of education had been sent to the affected areas to determine the extent of the displacement and the exact number of affected schools.

Mutula said the government had provided relief aid to the displaced and that efforts were under way to improve security to facilitate their return to their homes.

"We distributed food to the displaced in camps at Rumuruti, City Cotton, Gatundia and Three Post," he said. "To improve security, more officers have been posted to the trouble spots."

He added: "Officers from my office and elders have gone to affected areas and we hope that they will be able to give us an update on the exact number of those affected."

Francis Wambua of the KRCS, who had toured parts of district, told IRIN that people were living in desperate conditions after their homes had been burnt down, their livestock stolen, food stores burnt and relatives killed.

"They are in a very terrible condition; they have no food, no blankets. Most of them lost everything," Wambua said. "They are gathered in places such as police stations, which are cold at night, while others are sleeping in the open, it is terrible."
He said the situation was deteriorating, with the latest conflict bringing the number of people displaced in the area in the past year to more than 14,000.

"It is sad that the number of families being forced away from their homes, farms and grazing fields in Laikipia is increasing every day; a solution is required urgently," he added.

Mary Muthoni, whose husband was killed, said she had been camping at Gatundia administration police (AP) post since the attack last week but they had now been asked to leave the post.

"My husband's body is at the mortuary. Nobody is assisting me; to make matters worse, the government ordered us to leave the AP camp yesterday [16 March]," she said.