By PAUL GITAU
Tana, Kenya: Death returned at 5.30am Wednesday to Nduru village in Tana River County, with the killing of 10 more people. Four others were seriously injured.
And with elections due in eight weeks, residents of the area, and Kenyans in general, are asking what it will take for the Government to end the tit-for-tat killings between ethnic Orma and Pokomo.
The violence has continued despite President Kibaki dispatching 2,000 officers from the paramilitary General Service Unit (GSU) to the area, and the Inspector General of the National Police Service David Kimaiyo vowing to end the bloodshed when he visited Tana River last month.
The Kimaiyo visit followed the killing of up to 42 ethnic Orma in Kipao area by Pokomo attackers on December 21. Six of the raiders died in the attack and their bodies were burnt.
Wednesday’s killings bring the death toll to 160 going back to August, last year, with up to 2,000 houses torched and over 40,000 people displaced
And it seems the assurance by the Inspector General to residents last month that the killings would stop have not worked, and that the situation is far from normal.
When Mr Kimaiyo visited the area he moved in with GSU officers, who were to take charge of the security by complementing the regular police and provincial security personnel.
Questions are now being raised as to what has gone wrong in the Tana River area, and how many people must die for the Government to contain the ethnic, which appears to have political dimensions linked to the March 4 elections.
Wednesday some fighting was still raging in Ozi forest to where the raiders had fled. The death toll is expected to rise after some were shot with poisoned arrows.
And in a sign of growing hostility between ethnic Orma and police, enraged villagers in Nduru chased away officers deployed to protect them. They also cut off the hands of two attackers they had killed before burning their corpses.
The villagers accused the police of not protecting them and as the armed law enforcers fled, their vehicle overturned injuring several officers.
Wednesday’s burning of corpses was a repeat of macabre rituals displayed at Kipao village in the Tana Delta on December 21, last year, when 10 suspected raiders were burnt to death in a bonfire as police watched.
Not spared the wrath of the villagers were journalists who were attacked, beaten, and banished from the area after being accused of biased reporting.
Coast Provincial Police Officer, Aggrey Adoli, said about 300 Pokomo raiders surrounded Nduru village at dawn Wednesday, armed with machetes and other crude weapons and overpowered the men.
Tana Delta Kenya Red Cross Disaster and Response co-ordinator, Michale Ali Abbey, said two of 10 people killed were from the Pokomo. They were killed in the clash that is said to have lasted 30 minutes.
“Those who sustained serious injuries are a woman, a boy, and two men who received deep cuts on their bodies and were rushed to?Malindi District Hospital where they are recovering,” said Abbey.
Tana Delta Officer Commanding Police Division, Richard Mukwate, confirmed the dawn attack saying police officers had been deployed in the area.
Villagers fled homes for fear of being attacked. A Kenya Red Cross official said over 15,000 people whose houses were torched have been affected and are camping at Witu, Tarasaa, and Dida Waride camps for the internally displaced. Over 20,000 have fled their homes due to insecurity.
“It was at around 5.27am when we heard shouts from the villagers who had been deployed to man villages. They were raising alarm after being raided. When the villagers responded, they had surrounded the entire village.?A witness, Musa Wario, said about 300 attackers who tied red ribbons on their heads raided the village. They had to take cover and engage the raiders for almost 30 minutes. Police came one hour later after the raiders had left, he said. The villagers were still pursuing the raiders by the time of going to press.
At the same time the enraged villagers have barricaded the road leading to Nduru to stop police officers, and Red Cross officials from entering the village.
Police officers who were going to the village in a Land Rover received hostile treatment from the villagers. While engaging the villagers, the driver of their vehicle lost control and rolled injuring some of the police officers.
“We had to rush the police officers to Malindi District Hospital,” added the witnesses who accused security officers of being unhelpful as they arrived late after the attackers had unleashed mayhem.
And mystery surrounds the whereabouts of an Administration Police officer who vanished after being deployed to quell tribal violence between Orma and Pokomo villagers at Kipao village in Tana Delta on December 21 last year.
Fresh theories have emerged about Reuben Kinywa’s disappearance during the operation at Kipao village on December 21 last year amid reports that the officer could have been killed by villagers, with fellow police officers, unwittingly, allowing enraged villagers to burn his corpse.
“We have not been able to trace him to date. We have done all that is possible and we presume he is alive,” said Tana River County Commissioner, Joseph Rotich Wednesday.
Wednesday police deployed to Nduru displayed the same helplessness when they fled from villagers and got injured when their vehicle overturned.
Later that day the villagers, reportedly, killed a second attacker as armed police watched. Villagers claimed that some of the alleged attackers wore police uniform and these claims have fostered a hypothesis that a security officer could have been killed in the bonfire lit by villagers on December 21 but Rotich has declined to comment on this.
“That matter is still under investigation and I would not like to jeopardise investigation,” said and added that “we presume he is still alive because we have not received information to the comtrary.”
Sources from Kipao village in that day revealed that when the officers arrived at the scene they were confronted by the armed members of the Orma community.
Mr Rotich and the GSU commandant in charge of operations Anthony Kamitu failed to give a comprehensive answer as to why they failed to collect the bodies of the attackers before they were set on fire.
–– Additional reporting by Eric Njuguna, David Ochami and Joseph Masha