NAIROBI, Kenya ? As many as 52 people, most of them women and children, were killed Wednesday in a coastal area of Kenya in attacks involving two rival communities, officials said.
The clashes erupted when an armed militia from the Pokomo ethnic group raided homes belonging to the Orma community, officials said, with the attackers slashing residents to death in a village in the Tana River district before setting their houses on fire.
Danson Mungatana, the local member of Parliament, said that 48 people were killed in the fighting.
?This conflict has been simmering since last week,? he said, citing an increase in acts of lawlessness in the area. He said the killings were revenge attacks after a string of cattle raids.
Residents said the fighting stemmed from a confrontation over land and resources. The Pokomo practice subsistence farming while the Orma are cattle herders.
Clashes over cattle are common throughout this part of Africa. But the death toll ? and the number of women and children killed ? surprised many Kenyans, who are still grappling with memories of the 2007 postelection violence that consumed many parts of the nation, killing over 1,000 people and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless.
The Kenya Red Cross said its team counted 52 bodies at the scene, 43 of which had died of injuries and 9 of which were burned. ?In total, our rescue team has taken seven people, including women and children, to hospital,? said Nelly Muluka, the Kenya Red Cross?s head of communication.
A Kenyan police spokesman, Eric Kiraithe, put the figure of those killed at 40.
?I can confirm that 40 people have been killed,? Mr. Kiraithe said by telephone while on his way to the scene. He said a security delegation headed by the country?s police commissioner had been sent to the region.
A senior police official, quoted on Capital FM, Kenya?s leading radio station, had a higher death toll. ?In total, 48 people died,? he told the station. ?They include 31 women, 11 children and 6 men.?