Militia behind Kenya's Tana River Killings, Say Villagers
Villagers targeted in a recent wave of tit-for-tat killings in southeast Kenya say trained militia, including men from outside the region, are behind the raids.
And they suspect politicians may have brought them in.
The killings have pitted the Pokomo, a farming community, against their Orma pastoralist neighbors in the Tana River region.
Clashes between the two tribes are normally attributed to disputes over water and grazing rights.
But local people say the latest violence -- in which more than 100 people have been killed in less than a month -- is largely fueled by politics.
"We were born into the conflict between Pokomos and Ormas," Kadze Kazungu, a Pokomo, told AFP in front of the blackened walls of what was once his house in Chamwanamuma village.
"We have fought over land and water before.
"But whenever that occurs, elders from both tribes always find a way of resolving the issue," Kazungu added.
"This time it is not about land. It is politics. Bad politics."
On Wednesday an MP from the region was charged with inciting violence.
Dhadho Godhana, the MP for Galole in the Tana River delta, denied the charges and was released on bail pending another hearing set for October 2.
But he has been dropped from his cabinet position as assistant livestock minister.
Kazungu's house was torched on Tuesday when Ormas launched attacks on several villages, killing four people and burning hundreds of homes.
The attacks were in retaliation for what was described as an attack on the Orma by the Pokomo they day before. But the villagers targeted say the assailants were not all Pokomo -- and were not all local people.
"Amongst the attackers were Pokomo boys I've known since they were small...," said Hadija Guyo, an Orma woman in one of the villages targeted told AFP.
"But the majority of the attackers were people we had never seen," she added.
"Most of them did not even look like Pokomos."
The attackers were not villagers angered by a group of pastoralists, she said: "They attacked us with so much precision and in so little time. These were trained people."
The raiders came from all directions to surround the village, she recalled.
"The few who had guns were at the front, those with machetes behind them and then those with petrol and matches at the back," she said.
Another witness, who asked to remain anonymous, described how the assailants used whistles to coordinate the attack.
"They would whistle and a group would change direction and attack houses in a different area of the village," he said.
"They would whistle again and those with the guns would move back a bit as the ones with machetes moved to the front."
A policeman, who was at the scene and who also spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP the raiders had stretchers made of branches and blankets with them.
"Their aim was to leave no man behind," he said.
For him, that meant that the assailants did not want any of their men who might be injured or killed to be identified.
Guyo accused the Mombasa Republican Council, a Mombasa-based secessionist group that was until very recently outlawed, of being behind Monday's attack, in which 38 people were killed.
It is believed that while the Pokomos are sympathetic to the secessionist cause of the MRC, the Ormas and other pastoralist tribes are against the group.
But Kazungu was cautious about such accusations.
"I cannot comment on the involvement of the MRC," he told AFP. "All I can say is that sympathizers are amongst us."
The MRC has denied any involvement.
"Those are rumors, we are not militants," MRC secretary general Randu Nzai told AFP.
"We do not have a militia and we do not kill. We are a peaceful group and do all our lobbying through the court," he added.