By Lucas Ng’asike and Osinde Obare
At least 42 people are feared dead in heavy fighting between members of Kenya’s Turkana community and an Ethiopian tribal militia along Kenya-Ethiopia border.
Bandits armed with AK 47 assault rifles and machine guns ambushed a group of Kenyans, among them defenseless women, who had crossed into Ethiopia to buy food.
"The Kenyans had crossed the border to buy food from Merrile villagers in Sies in Omorete area in Ethiopia when they were ambushed by the militia as they headed back home," explained a survivor. - Aerial view of watering point in Todonyang where General Service Unit officers clashed with Merille tribesmen who wanted to take control of water, pasture and fishing points along Lake Turkana, in February last year. - Labour Minister and Turkana North MP John Munyes (left) with senior GSU officers at the border.[PHOTO: LUCAS NG’ASIKE/STANDARD]
- Aerial view of watering point in Todonyang where General Service Unit officers clashed with Merille tribesmen who wanted to take control of water, pasture and fishing points along Lake Turkana, in February last year.
- Labour Minister and Turkana North MP John Munyes (left) with senior GSU officers at the border.[PHOTO: LUCAS NG’ASIKE/STANDARD]
Those killed included 37 Turkana villagers, according to Rift Valley PC Osman Warfa.
Deadly clashes between the Turkana and the Merille in the past were mainly related to cross-border cattle rustling raids.
Despite the animosity generated by cattle rustling, the two communities had until the latest carnage engaged in barter trade and purchasing of food from markets on both sides of the border.
Yesterday, the Kenyans who survived the attack came back to Todonyang, alerted their kin and neighbours who went in pursuit of the Merille community members living along the common border and killed five of them.
Other Merrile members escaped after they took refuge at a local General Service Unit camp. At Todonyang in Turkana North where the casualties came from angry Turkana residents shot dead five Merille militia in retaliatory attacks.
Todonyang Catholic Parish Priest Father Stephen Ochieng’ narrated how the Turkana pursued the Merrile in a retaliatory attack.
Among those killed was Turkana elder Robert Petabong. His colleague, Julius Loudi survived the gunfire though he was shot and injured on the shoulder.
A woman survived the attack when she lay on the ground pretending to be dead and escaped with bullet wounds.
Another survivor hid in the house of a Merrile friend during the Monday evening incident. "They were shot at close range and their bodies are lying everywhere in the plains at the Kenyan-Ethiopian border but we don’t know why they were killed," said Father Ochieng’.
Although they had fought in recent times over pasture and watering points in the dry area, the two communities have been living and trading together peacefully.
"We knew that there were many Turkanas in the Dassanach villages in Ethiopia who had gone to buy Sorghum and other goods in the barter trade that has been going on," Father Ochieng’ told The Standard.
Ethiopian police at Namoruputh border frantically struggled to rescue some of the Turkanas who had sought refuge in Merille villages.
Local elders led by the Paramount Chief Lotikori Yarakal, said a Merille elder helped them to hide from the marauding militia.
Ethiopian officers accompanied by Kenyan Church officials led by Father Ochieng’ went around the villages of Toltale, Gabite, and Koro and safely picked up 45 Turkana residents who had hidden there and brought them back to Todonyang.
Fr Ochieng’ warned that unless the Kenya and Ethiopia governments and security forces clamp down on militia along the border, more revengeful killings would follow.
"The situation is tense. There would be possible revenge attacks unless the two governments intervened," warned the priest.
Turkana North MP John Munyes and Warfa flew to the area following the incident, and vowed the Government would investigate and punish the crime.
"For now I can confirm to you that 37 Turkana residents have been killed. We are rushing there and will give you more details later," the PC told The Standard on phone.
Father Ochieng’ called on the two governments to bring to book those involved in the killings of the innocent from both communities.
"The price of human life in this area has gone down. There is urgent need to stop these senseless killings," he said.
Yesterday, plans were under way to collect the bodies from Ethiopia for a mass burial in Turkana.
Turkana North DC Jack Obuo condemned the incident and regreted such brutal killings would occur in spite of a peace agreement between the two communities.
He said 20 bodies of members of Turkana community were still lying at the scene of the killings, about one kilometre from the Todonyang Police Post.
The DC said he had contacted Ethiopian authorities in Jinka District to identify the perpetrators of killings and bring them to book. "It was not clear why the Merille ambushed and shot at the fishermen yet they had just crossed the border to buy food," said Obuo.
Obuo and the deputy police chief deputy Paul Mbuthia were monitoring events and said security had been beefed up at the border to stop further attacks.
This was after claims the Merille militias were mobilising for revenge in Kokuro, Liwan and Meyan, while the Turkana were also planning retaliatory attacks.
Local residents accused the Government of laxity in setting up a permanent security base at Todonyang.
Residents claim most bloody conflicts result from the Merille militia wanting to take control of Lake Turkana, which is flourishing with fish resources.
Over the last one year alone, Merille militias have killed more than 100 people in the volatile Todonyang border.