The Kenyan government has appealed for calm following weekend clashes that killed at least 14 people in the Rift Valley.

Rift Valley Provincial Commissioner Wilson Ndolo told VOA he is meeting with residents of Mai Mahiu township, about 60-kilometers northwest of the capital Nairobi, to ensure there is calm in the area and to investigate the facts following fighting there.

"The first step in a peace-making mission is to make sure the conflict ceases before you get the way forward, and that is what we are doing, to ensure there is peace," said Mr. Ndolo. "And then we sit at a roundtable, negotiate, and move forward."

Last weekend, ethnic Maasais and Kikuyus battled over access to water from a river in the area. Mr. Ndolo said 14 people have been confirmed dead.

The member of Parliament for the nearby Narok North, William ole Ntimama, explains what happened.

"The whole problem started with the water," said Mr. ole Ntimama. "Actually, there is the only water source in that dry area on the bottom of the Rift Valley there. This particular one is supposed to have been shared by the Maasai pastoralists and the Kikuyu farmers."

The fight is believed to have erupted after Maasai herdsmen accused Kikuyu farmers of diverting water from the Ewaso Kedong River to irrigate their farms.

According to media reports, the Maasai herdsmen vandalized water pipes belonging to Kikuyu farmers, who then retaliated by attacking the Maasai. Kenyan authorities report that 15 people have been injured, 20 houses destroyed, and up to two-thousand people displaced by the violence.

Mr. ole Ntimama says the problem in Mai Mahiu and other areas dates back to unfair land ownership and distribution policies during colonial days that have not been corrected by post-independence governments.

"The British handed over land to other people and this has actually created a big problem right now because we are getting short of grass, short of water," he said. "I think the government must start sorting it out."

Mai Mahiu is one of several locations across Kenya that are experiencing clashes over access to water and land.

Similar fighting is occurring in three other areas in Rift Valley and northern Kenya.