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Kenyan Ethnic Clashes Leave 39 People Dead, Dozens Injured

At least 39 people were killed in renewed ethnic fighting in Kenya’s southeastern Tana River delta, where Orma livestock herders and Pokomo crop farmers have clashed repeatedly this year over grazing land and water.

A further 45 people were hurt in the attacks that took place in Kipao, about 400 kilometers (249 miles) southeast of the capital, Nairobi, Richard Mukwate, the regional police chief, said in a phone interview today. Suspected members of the Pokomo community armed with bows and poison-tipped arrows, guns and other hand-made weapons carried out the attack on Orma residents of Kipao, County Commissioner Joseph Rotich said in a phone interview.

“The death toll might rise as we have received many reports that injured people are fleeing the scene of the attack with serious injuries,” Rotich said.

Kenya is scheduled to hold presidential elections in March, the first since a disputed vote in 2007 triggered ethnic clashes in which more than 1,100 people died and 350,000 were forced to flee their homes. More than 250 people have been killed in violence in Kenya so far this year as ethnic groups and clans try to undermine each other’s political power, Abbas Gullet, secretary-general of the Kenya Red Cross, said in August.

Politically Motivated

The spate of violence between the Pokomo and the Orma erupted in August in a dispute over grazing land and water. The United Nations said there is evidence the clashes were politically motivated. Kenya President Mwai Kibaki on Sept. 13 fired a minister who was arrested on suspicion of instigating the violence.

Kenya’s $33.6 billion economy is East Africa’s largest. The country is the world’s biggest exporter of black tea and supplies a third of the cut flowers that are sold in Europe.

Concern among Kenyan business owners that ethnic tensions may flare as the election approaches has dented confidence in the economy, according to Ipsos Synovate, a Nairobi-based market-research company. The Kenyan shilling weakened 0.1 percent to 85.90 a dollar by 2:08 a.m. in Nairobi.

Kibaki condemned the violence and urged the authorities to “move with speed” to investigate the incident.

“No effort will be spared in ensuring perpetrators of the heinous act are brought to book,” he said in a statement e-mailed by the presidency today.

Police in the Tana River delta are trying to restore calm to the area where the attacks took place, Mukwate said.

“It is very volatile,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can to calm the communities.”

The government has carried out “forceful disarmament” over the past three months in all villages in the Tana River delta hit by conflict, Rotich said. Eleven people have been charged with incitement, planning and assisting in the attacks, he said.

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