Kenya: Uneasy calm restored in Tana River

NAIROBI, 18 December (IRIN) - The security of some 3,000 people displaced by recent violent clashes in Tana River District, eastern Kenya, has improved significantly over the last week, according to humanitarian sources.
"Up to yesterday, there have been no incidents for the last week," Pius Murithi, Assistant Development Coordinator for the international NGO Caritas, told IRIN on Tuesday. "There is quietness now, because people are weary of hitting one another," he added.

Some families who had fled villages around the town of Hola had begun returning to their homes, the Daily Nation newspaper on Monday quoted Tana River District Commissioner James Waweru as saying. "I am encouraged by the situation, as families are now coming back, although others are yet to return," he said.

According to Murithi, some 30 families that had been camping by the roadside near the police post at Hola for improved safety, had now left. Most had not been able to return home, however, as their houses had been burned to the ground. "They cannot go home, because there are no homes to go to," he said.

Over 50 people were killed in the latest outbreak of violence in Tana River, which began on 20 November when Pokomo farmers and Orma pastoralists clashed over rights to land and water resources.

While the Pokomo accuse the Orma of allowing livestock to encroach on their farms and of destroying their crops, the Orma complain that Pokomo farmlands are too close to the banks of the Tana River and prevent the herders from using the river to water their cattle.

The conflict was initially triggered in December 2000 by a controversial land adjudication programme, which could have given the Pokomo title deeds to the land they cultivate. The programme was opposed by the Orma as it could have restricted their access to vital grazing lands, according to regional analysts. "Land adjudication is one of the main factors which ignited the clashes," Murithi said.

The land adjudication process was scheduled to resume once calm had returned to the region, the Daily Nation on Monday quoted the district officer for Garsen (Tana River), Patrick Muli, as saying.

During a visit to the affected areas over the weekend, Muli said seminars would be held for the affected communities and that 10 leaders from each side would be selected to take part in a land adjudication process.

According to Murithi, it is essential that any reconciliation process includes women and youth representatives from the Tana River communities. "The elders structure is too regimented. We are trying to start a reconciliation process by having representatives elected in the villages," he added.

In a separate development, police in the coastal city of Mombasa on 15 December arrested Michael Kaduda, the secretary-general of the Federal Party of Kenya, for allegedly making inflammatory pubic remarks on the clashes, Kenya Television Network (KTN) reported.

Kaduda claimed that government officials had been among those who staged attacks in Handa Mpya village, Galole Division, on 9 December, in which 14 people were reportedly killed.

Allegations that local police reservists from the two communities had been involved in the violence at Handa Mpya had led the authorities to disarm them and move them out of the district, Murithi said. "Moving out local Pokomo and Orma reservists has helped security," he added.

Although the last week had been relatively calm, tensions in the district were still "very high", Murithi warned. "People from different communities can't even get in the same matatu [public bus] together for fear of more violence," he said.


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