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Village Feuds and Land Rights Leave At Least  4 Dead in Kenya - 2001-11-19

At least four people in Kenya have been killed and dozens of houses have been burned in a long standing land dispute.

Police spokesman Peter Kimanthi says four people have been killed in clashes in Kenya's coastal Tana River district. But Pius Muriithi of the Roman Catholic organization Caritas says eight people died.

According to Mr. Muriithi, the first to die was an elderly Pokomo man, who Mr. Muriithi said was kidnapped while out in the bush collecting firewood on Saturday. His body was found the next day. Mr. Muriithi says the man had been hacked to death with an axe.

According to news reports, fighting started on Sunday afternoon when a Pokomo village was attacked. According to the reports, the villagers managed to repulse the raiders, but their goats were set free. The Pokomos told Mr. Muriithi that they followed their animals to an Oroma village called Tarasa. Fearing they were being attacked, the Oromas came out with guns and started shooting. He says around 50 houses were burned and two people killed.

Mr. Muriithi says five people were killed in the second attack Monday morning. "While we were still there at about 8, then there was some other problems in another village called Golbanti. There, the bandits attacked again at about 5:30 in the morning. There they burned between 20 and 30 houses. The people that I counted dead were five - three girls, an elderly lady of about 60 to 70 and another old man that died in the hospital. There were gunshots and cuts, very deep cuts," he explained.

Land is at the root of the conflict, which has left at least 60 people dead this year. Oromas would like to graze their cattle on land being cultivated by Pokomo farmers.

An ongoing drought in Kenya has heightened tensions between the two communities who are said to be desperate for fertile land.

Mr. Muriithi of Caritas says he believes the Kenyan government could solve the problem by addressing the question of land rights. "The government must talk very clearly about land administration, which is a very central thing in Kenya today. There is no concrete land policy. That's the problem. If the government can come up with a concrete land policy, then we can be able to solve the problem. But, presently, the government has not done anything. But I don't think the community can do anything on its own," he said.

Kenyan police spokesman Peter Kimanthi says a police security team has moved into the area to calm the situation.

Mr. Muriithi says about 1,000 people have fled the area to seek shelter in the parish compound, where he says a local priest is struggling to provide them with food and water.