By Paul Gitau
TANA RIVER; KENYA: In a further indictment of State security forces, five children were among 11 people killed in a revenge attack by the Orma on the Pokomo at Kibisu village in blood-soaked Tana River Delta.
Most heartrending was the sight of a four year-old nursery schoolgirl lying on the ground with a schoolbag on her back after succumbing to a horrific wounds inflicted in the tit-for-tat killings.
She was shot in the face as she walked to a nearby school. By yesterday afternoon, her body was still lying in the sun with her school bag intact.
The Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) has asked all its members deployed to the area to leave for “their own safety”. Union officials said law and order has broken down and the safety of pupils and teachers can no longer be guaranteed.
Ade Semi Vere, Knut executive secretary, said in Garsen town that following the latest escalation, “It is now everyone for themselves and teachers are advised to leave for their own safety.”
Also slain was a woman, 75, burnt to death with her two year-old grandson in their house after the raiders locked it from outside.
Despite the supposedly heavy presence of paramilitary General Service Unit (GSU) teams and other police units, the violence has now seen 20 Kenyans killed in 24 hours, as both ethnic groups make a mockery of the Government’s internal security machine.
The contempt and ruthlessness with which raiders on both sides are operating in full glare of security forces is further evidence that something drastic would have to be done to end the bloodletting.
Armed militia attacked the remote village in Tana River County killing indiscriminately and leaving questions in the minds of many as to whether the Government has lost its ability to guarantee national security or if the National Security Intelligence Service, which was recently given billions of shillings, had failed to provide intelligence early enough to the police. President Kibaki will be in Kwale County today for a State function, just 30 minutes away by helicopter from the scene of the murders.
Security officials and local victims blamed yesterday attack on about 150 ethnic Orma militiamen who descended on the Pokomo village at 7am to avenge Wednesday raid on the Pokomo in Nduru village, where 11 people, mainly, ethnic Orma, were slaughtered.
The two communities have been locked in a deadly violence since last August leading to the deaths of about 200 people, torching of 2,000 houses, and displacement of over 40,000 people.
The two communities harbour ancestral hatred as well as religious and cultural rivalries over land and other resources, lately exploding in deadly violence that has acquired a political tinge as the March 4 elections approach.
The GSU commander in Tana Delta, Ronald Opilli, said the five children, three men, and two women were killed either through burning or gunshots.
“The GSU responded immediately and our officers are now pursuing the attackers,” said Mr Opilli, an assurance that sounded hollow to survivors who are now fleeing towards Malindi in fear of more attacks. Police inaction has been particularly troubling in the violence with most residents saying officers deployed since last September are either too fearful or disinterested in the security operation.
Opilli told The Standard that 21 houses were set ablaze in the yesterday mayhem that was exceptionally macabre, coming after the equally grotesque carnage on Wednesday.
Michael Aiyabei, a local Kenya Red Cross official, said eight of yesteday’s victims were admitted at Malindi District Hospital with gunshot wounds. Six others with cuts and burns were treated at the relief agency’s mobile clinic.
Giving a harrowing account of those moments, David Kokai, a resident who survived the attack, but lost his wife and son, said the attackers descended on Kibusu in a heavy burst of gunfire while wielding bows, arrows and machetes, just as they were waking up.
“I ran for cover and hid in the bushes. They tried to shoot me with arrows but I escaped,” he said and added that from his hideout, he heard his wife shouting and pleading for mercy.
“Then I heard two gunshots, but I remained in hiding fearing I would be killed. When the GSU arrived I discovered my wife and child had been shot,” said a tearful and inconsolable Kokai.
The Standard confirmed that the woman and her infant were shot in the head at close range, as was a blind man who ran directly into the killers’ firing range in the melee.
Interviews with security agencies revealed that the latest bout of violence might have been plotted and financed by people displaced in previous attacks.
Opilli said the police received information attackers linked to the current violence that began on December 21, last year, are internally displaced persons living in Malindi and Mombasa.
“This is where these plans are hatched,” claimed Opilli, who also alleged that some of the raiders in the Wednesday violence are members of the separatist Mombasa Republican Council, thus introducing a political angle to the matter.
But questions remain regarding the ability and willingness of various police units to defend the traumatised residents who have not known peace since August, last year.
But Opilli announced that three suspects were arrested on Wednesday evening following the attack on Nduru village.
Yesterday’s attack was as audacious as it was sophisticated, given that for the first time most of those who died were killed from AK 47 rifle gunfire. The village is less than four kilometres, east of Garsen town, the seat of the troubled delta.
“We have lost faith in the Government’s willingness to defend us,” said a resident of Garsen, as she prepared to flee the town, amid reports the violence was headed there.
Other residents told The Standard the attackers came from Galili and Dide Waride villages, populated by the Orma, and entered Kibusu through the local primary school, which they occupied for sometime.
When The Standard arrived at the scene, the militiamen who lost no one in the attack were fleeing towards local forests. Although Opilli claimed his officers were pursuing them, it was evident the raiders were able to pin down the GSU with heavy gunfire as they retreated.