NAIROBI: Nine people were killed Wednesday in the latest unrest in southeast Kenya, officials said, raising concern over security less than two months before the first polls since deadly post-electoral violence five years ago.
Violence in the Tana River region first erupted in August, pitting the Pokomo farming community against their Orma pastoralist neighbours and leading to a series of vicious reprisal killings and attacks.
Regional police chief Aggrey Adoli said local politicians were being investigated for their role in the attack, after around a hundred raiders launched a pre-dawn attack Wednesday on the Orma village of Nduru, carrying out killings and setting fire to homes.
"They will have to face prosecution...very soon we will catch up with them," he told reporters, without saying exactly who the suspects were.
Three of the nine killed were believed to be from the attackers, said Caleb Kilunde, a local Kenya Red Cross official said.
"The situation remains volatile ... with rumours of a revenge attack being planned," Kilunde said, adding that three of those wounded had deep cuts to the head.
Initially eight were reported dead, but the toll later rose to nine after one died in hospital, leaving four critically wounded, the Red Cross said.
Funerals for those villagers killed were held on Wednesday afternoon, as angry residents burned the corpses of two of the attackers.
"They prevented the police from carrying away the bodies...they burnt them to ashes," Kilunde said.
Those killed included members of both the Orma and Pokomo, taking the number of those killed since the clashes began last year to more than 140. In December, at least 45 people were killed in an attack.
The two communities have clashed in the past, violence that has often been attributed to disputes over water and grazing rights.
But the scale and intensity of recent killings -- with women and children hacked to death or torched in their huts -- has shocked many, with some locals accusing politicians of fuelling the spate of attacks.
"Major causes of the violence are unequal resource allocation and political meddling," said Milly Lwanga, of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, an independent body set up after the 2007-8 post-election violence.
"Politicians are using the impoverished populations on the ground to create rifts among the two communities," she added.
However, local parliament member Danson Mungatana said the fighting was "not about politics", noting that "leadership positions have been rotating among the main tribes in the area."
Elections five years ago descended into deadly post-poll killings that shattered Kenya's image as a beacon of regional stability, with at least 1,100 people killed and more than 600,000 displaced.
The upcoming March 4 elections are for the presidency and parliament, as well as for regional gubernatorial posts and local councils. The run-up to the vote has been marked by renewed tensions both at the national political and grassroots levels.
Kenya is battling a number of security threats, including a series of grenade attacks blamed on Islamist militants, supporters of Somalia's Al-Qaeda linked Shebab.