By Paul Gitau and Tobias Chanji
More homes were set on fire in violence-torn Buranazi and Ozi villages in Kipini, Tana River County early Monday morning despite the presence of the paramilitary General Service Unit (GSU) officers.
According to District Commissioner David Kiprop, 19 men were arrested during a swoop by security teams searching for illegal guns and other weapons even as residents expressed fears that the arson might rekindle violence between ethnic Orma and Pokomo tribes.
The area has been flooded with over 2,000 security personnel, who are hunting for weapons and enforcing a dusk-to-dawn curfew imposed by President Kibaki last week. The arson came as 18 young men in Kwale County were charged with crimes ranging from preparing to commit a felony and administration of oaths in Shimba Hills and Dzombo forests following the beheading of a police officer in the area on Friday.
Tiribe area, where Dzombo forest is situated, has been on the edge since the officer’s killing, which triggered the deployment of several dozen General Service Unit (GSU) officers amid fears that the violence in the Tana Delta was spreading to Kwale County.
On Monday, several schools near the forested areas were shut as the GSU locked down Tiribe in pursuit of other gang members believed to be taking oaths and planning violence in this remote and poorly policed place.
Security sources in Kwale also indicate that there is a political angle to the new oath-taking and suspect that politicians are seeking to intimidate ethnic minorities resident in the area.
At the weekend, police raided a forest and detained several naked people allegedly taking oaths in a part of Coast Province known for xenophobic violence since 1997.
Most of the people charged on Monday are ethnic Digo, Duruma and Giriama from Likoni and other parts of Coast Province, and the prosecution rejected pleas for them to be released on bond.
In the Tana Delta case, houses were torched in Kipini and Ozi villages early Monday although no casualties were reported by the time of going to press.
There are conflicting reports about the genesis of the fire in Ozi village, occupied by ethnic Pokomo people where 20 houses were burnt at about 5.45am Monday.
Some residents claimed that GSU officers set the houses on fire as they stepped up a house-to-house hunt for weapons including guns and spears.