MOMBASA, Kenya (Reuters) - Ten people were killed on Thursday when armed raiders torched more than a dozen houses in Kenya’s Tana River area, the Red Cross said, violence police say is linked to upcoming elections.
Five children and two women were among the dead.
One child lay dead in the dirt still wearing his school backpack, Reuters television footage showed.
It also showed women wailing over the slain bodies and the ruins of several grass-thatched homesteads still smoldering several hours after the attack.
The raid was the latest in a series of tit-for-tat killings that are ostensibly part of a longstanding grazing land and water dispute between two tribes.
On Wednesday, however, police said several politicians, business people and local leaders were still funding the violence, in which 100 people were killed in August.
Witness Idris Jale described piercing cries as the assailants surrounded homesteads and set them alight in the pre-dawn raid.
“I knew mine was next so I quickly helped my wife and son jump out through the front window. We were lucky. They didn’t see us and we escaped through a swamp,” 42-year-old Jale told Reuters by telephone from a nearby police camp.
Raiders from the Orma tribe - semi-nomadic cattle-herders - struck the Pokomo village of Kibisu a day after Pokomo farmers wielding guns, machetes and arrows killed nine Ormas in a nearby settlement.
Human rights groups blame the surge in violence in the Tana River county on politicians bent on driving away parts of the population they think will vote for their rivals in general elections on March 4.
Political loyalties in Kenya are typically forged along ethnic lines and not ideology.
“Politicians are setting us up against each other, taking advantage of the long-standing conflict between us,” said Jale, whose wife broke her leg in their escape.
Outgoing President Mwai Kibaki deployed more than 1,000 security personnel to the area in September in an effort to stem the bloodshed.
The renewed clashes have raised questions over their ability to stamp out mounting insecurity as Kenya, the region’s biggest economy, heads towards its first elections since a contested poll in 2007 unleashed nationwide fighting.
“It is getting more complicated each day but we are assuring Kenyans that the situation will be controlled,” Coast Province police chief Aggrey Adoli told a reporters in Mombasa.
More than 450 Kenyans have been killed in violent clashes across the country since the beginning of 2012, the United Nations said.
An influx of weapons across Kenya’s borders, in particular from war-ravaged Somalia, has intensified the ferocity of attacks between rival communities.
Additional reporting by Reuters Television; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by George Obulutsa and Angus MacSwan