Kenyans are fleeing the Ethiopian border for fear of a clash between the Dassanach community of Ethiopia and the Turkana following the killing of an elder last month.
Ethiopian elder Lobakate Lobolemai was shot dead on July 31 by a Turkana gunman during a church service in Turkana North Sub-county. The attacker stormed the church and selectively shot Lobolemai.
The elder had crossed to Kenya with members of Dassanach Catholic Church from Koro and Omorate villages in South Omo, Ethiopia, to attend the 10th anniversary of Our Lady of Peace Todonyang Catholic Mission at the border point.
The Ethiopian authorities gave Kenya a week, which ended last week, to produce the suspect in court. Members of the Dassanach community threatened an unspecified action if the assailant is not apprehended.
This killing is likely to disrupt a peace accord between the two communities, which ended several years of bloody conflicts along the border.
“We are troubled by this incident. We fear the Dassanach community will retaliate. The suspect has spoiled peace that we have been enjoying in this region. Tension is now high between the communities,” said Todonyang resident Osman Eleman.
Mr Eleman said more than 130 have been killed along the border following conflicts between the neighbouring Merille and Turkana communities.
Turkana North OCS Francis Siror said they have launched a manhunt for the attacker.
“We are using some Turkana elders to trace the suspect. The rough terrain and poor network in the region has frustrated our efforts to trace him, but our search is still on,” Mr Siror said.
The Ethiopia Government has sent a protest letter to Kenyan authorities seeking to arrest the suspect. It threatened to take the matter to an international court.
Source said the Ethiopian authorities want the suspect arrested and handed over to them for trial.
“We the Government of Ethiopia are very sad about the incident, which occurred in Todonyang Mission camp.
We are sincerely asking you to arrest the culprit so that we can also see him. If this will not happen we are not going to allow any movement from Kenya to Ethiopia, except for the priest of Todonyang Mission and his staff only,” the letter reads.
“If nothing happens, we will take the case to an international court under the Ethiopian Law. If someone kills another person he or she must be jailed. So far, we have jailed 17 members of Dassanach community who killed Turkanas.”
Ethiopia threatened to close down the border, warning that no member of the Turkana community should cross to the country town until a written permission from the authorities is sought.
Todonyang Catholic Parish priest Alex Campon said, “It was an unfortunate incident. All the congregants from Ethiopia and Kenya were shocked when a gunman stormed the church and shot dead the Ethiopian elder. It was not clear why he selectively shot the old man.”
Fr Campon said the faithful from Ethiopia had visited the parish to celebrate with their Kenyan counterparts the confirmation of 50 Christians and blessing of four new classrooms presided over by Lodwar Diocese Bishop Dominic Kimengich.
The priest said the incident is likely to disrupt peace in the region. He said members of the Dassenach and Turkana communities had co-existed peacefully after peace was brokered in the region.
The closure of the Kenya–Ethiopia border will cripple cross-border trade. The communities have been engaging inbarter trade.
The communities share lake Turkana and River Omo for fishing, which has been a flourishing multi-billion shilling business.
Turkana Deputy Governor Peter Ekal condemned the incident. He told The Standard on Sunday that he will lead a delegation to meet the Dassanach Woreda administration to iron out the issue.
“We need peace between the two communities and that is why we will follow up on this,” said Ekai.
Turkana North MP Christoper Nakuleu said security personnel who watched the gunman shoot the elder must be investigated.
“It is sad that the officers, who were supposed to protect the faithful, watched as the gunman shot the old man,” he said.