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08.02.2007 Kenya

60 killed in Kenya land clashes

By Sapa
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Escalating clashes over fertile land in Kenya's Mount Elgon region have killed 60 people and forced tens of thousands more to flee their homes since December, said the Kenya Red Cross on Tuesday.

Land is an explosive issue in the east African nation where for decades top politicians grabbed public land for political patronage, often dividing it among members of their tribe.

Local members of parliament say the latest clashes broke out when people displaced from their ancestral land attacked communities now occupying their land.

Police blamed the violence on criminal gangs.

"Since the December flare-up in hostilities, 31 200 people have been displaced and 60 people killed,” said Anthony Mwangi, a Kenya Red Cross spokesperson.

Local MP John Serut said the police were tracking a group calling itself the Sabaot Land Defence Force, which says it represents people forced off their land by successive governments, launching attacks from caves in Mount Elgon.

“About 30 of that particular defence force have so far been arrested and I am asking the government not to relent until all the criminals have been arrested,” said Serut.

Police said they had shot and arrested several men in the area around the Mount Elgon national park, renowned for its herds of elephants.

“The ongoing police operations are aimed at flushing out raiders hiding in caves who have been terrorising residents of the area ... calm has been restored,” said police spokesperson Gideon Kibunjah.

He said police also seized weapons, but did not provide details.

Serut said the problems in the fertile area dated back to the 1960s when the government set aside 19 000 acres to settle landless families soon after independence from Britain in 1963.

Local media said on Tuesday two more people were killed in the troubled region, including a primary school teacher, as homes were torched and hundreds more people forced to flee.

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