Tribal clashes force 6,000 Kenyans to flee their homes

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The Independent Online

More than 6,000 people have fled their homes to escape the tribal clashes that have so far killed more than 70 people in north-east Kenya this week.

Refugees from the feuding Borana and Gabra tribes have sought safety in the nearest town of Marsabit, and 2,000 soldiers have moved into the area to try to end the violence. The United Nations and the Kenyan Red Cross Society have medical centres in the town for the wounded.

In the nearby town of Isiolo, where both tribes also live, the Roman Catholic Bishop Luigi Locati was shot dead. The reason is unclear but many say that he was killed for helping people in his diocese.

The fighting began when the Borana raided the village of Turbi, killing 22 Gabra children. Ten Gabra were then pulled off a bus and killed in revenge. The bandits who committed the worst of the atrocities are believed to have fled across the Ethiopian border. They are being pursued by Kenyan police, who have promised to recover livestock stolen in the raid.

Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki appealed for calm and promised the attackers would be caught. But critics say he has been too slow to react to the insecurity that has been building up in the region over the past two decades. The local MP, Bonaya Godana, said: "The government is not making any effort to recover stolen animals and this encouraging lawlessness. It should also assure all Kenyans of protection from internal and external attacks."

Traditionally, the Gabra and Borana were allies who shared a common language, and the Gabra raised camels while the Borana raised cattle, but they began feuding as both sides began to focus on cattle and competed for the same grazing grounds.

Many believe that the outbreak is linked to the struggle in neighbouring Ethiopia between the Ethiopian government and the Oromo Liberation Front, which wants to secede. The Oromo consider the Borana of Kenya to be their diaspora and have urged them to drive rival tribes, including the Gabra, out of the region. Last year, several Kenyan policemen were killed in the area by landmines laid by either Oromo rebels or Ethiopian security services. But Alfred Matua, a government spokesman, said: "This is a local issue. It is time we dealt with our own problems instead of blaming others."

The conflicts in north-east Kenya have been exacerbated by water shortages that force farmers to compete for grazing grounds. All sides say that the government neglects them and they get no help to cope with the frequent droughts. In addition, prices for meat and livestock have remained static since the 1990s, and rising fuel prices and crumbling infrastructure make cattle-rearing more expensive.

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