Kenyan Lawmakers Vote to Deploy Army to Halt Ethnic Fighting

Kenyan lawmakers voted to deploy troops to the southeastern Tana Delta region where at least 116 people have died in ethnic fighting over the past four weeks.

The motion for the deployment came after groups including the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights criticized the government for failing to stem the violence and the Kenya Red Cross Society linked the killings to national elections scheduled for March 4. Legislators approved the deployment by a voice vote today in Nairobi, the capital.

“The Kenya Defence Forces should be deployed to restore peace and order,” Garsen MP Danson Mungatana, who belongs to the Pokomo ethnic group, told lawmakers. “The military, as they go there, can be subdivided into different groups, some to chase the bandits, others to mop up arms, others to reconstruct the place.”

Fighting erupted between ethnic Orma livestock herders and the Pokomo, who are farmers, in the Tana Delta last month in a dispute over pasture and water. There is evidence that the clashes were instigated for political reasons, according to the United Nations. More than 12,000 people have fled their homes since, according to the Kenya Red Cross Society.

March elections in Kenya, East Africa’s biggest economy, will be the first since a disputed 2007 vote sparked two months of ethnic and political reprisals in which more than 1,100 people died. The ensuing disruption to agricultural production, tourism and business helped cut economic growth to 1.5 percent from 7 percent.

Investor Confidence

Concern among Kenyan business owners that ethnic tensions may flare in the runup to the vote has dented confidence in East Africa’s biggest economy, according to Ipsos Synovate, the Nairobi-based market-research company. The Kenyan shilling weakened 0.3 percent to 84.15 a dollar at 5:11 p.m. in Nairobi.

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki today held talks with Defense Minister Yusuf Haji and other lawmakers from the Coast province, where the Tana Delta is, and agreed that more security personnel be sent to quell the violence. The East African nation’s constitution requires parliament approve any deployment by the army to deal with unrest or instability.

The officials also agreed that “leaders and other persons who incited” the attacks be arrested, according to a statement from Kibaki’s office. “This includes those based in Nairobi, Tana River and other parts of the country plus those funding the skirmishes.”

Minister Arrested

Police today arrested Assistant Livestock Minister Dhadho Godhana in connection with the violence, the Daily Nation reported, citing the police. Kenya Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe didn’t answer five calls to his mobile phone seeking comment. Godhana wasn’t in the office when Bloomberg called seeking comment, according to his assistant Abigeal Magumba.

A total of 1,800 police officers are being deployed to the Tana Delta, including 1,300 whose graduation ceremony was held today, and the police will also provide air cover to beef up security, Kiraithe said in an e-mailed statement.

The Tana Delta Peace, Development and Reconciliation Committee, a government-backed community organization, urged the state to investigate the possible involvement of the separatist Mombasa Republican Council in the attacks. The committee had received reports of youths affiliated with the council being involved in attacks in at least three villages over the past month, said Molu Bacha, a member of the TDPDRC.

‘Fanatical Following’

“The Mombasa Republican Council has a strong presence here in the Tana Delta and they have a fanatical following among local youths,” Bacha said in a phone interview today from Garsen, in the delta region. “The government needs to investigate the movement of youths from other coastal towns to various villages that were ravaged by armed attacks.”

The council, which seeks sovereignty for Kenya’s Coast province, denied involvement.

“Our aim is to bring Coast people together to champion for the secession agenda,” Randu Nzai Ruwa, secretary general of the council, said in a phone interview today from Mombasa. “It will defeat logic that we will incite one community to fight another one.”

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