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Thousands flee as death toll in Kenyan water clashes rises
MAI MAHIU, Kenya (AFP) Jan 24, 2005
Terrified villagers in Kenya's central Rift Valley continued to flee their homes on Monday, fearing new violence after at least 15 people were killed in weekend tribal clashes over water rights.

Despite government claims to have arranged and secured a truce by boosting the police presence in the region, streams of people -- most of them from the Kikuyu tribe -- were still arriving at a makeshift camp here in the shadows of the Mount Longonot volcano, an AFP correspondent said.

More than 2,000 displaced Kikuyu are now in Mai Mahiu township while a large but undetermined number of Maasai tribespeople were reported to have fled their homes for Narok, further west, the correspondent said.

The fighting, which started on Friday, pits crudely armed youths from the nomadic Maasai against Kikuyu farmers in the Mai Mahiu region, about 60 kilometres (35 miles) northwest of the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.

Government officials on the ground said they had recovered the bodies of 17 people but Rift Valley Provincial Commissioner Wilson Ndolo could confirm only 15 deaths, up one from the toll on Sunday.

Ndolo told AFP by phone from Mai Mahiu that government officials had mediated a truce between the Kikuyu and the Maasai and that displaced villagers were beginning to trickle back to their homes.

"We brokered a ceasefire yesterday (Sunday) at 2 p.m. (1000 GMT) and we have deployed police officers to ensure that it holds," he said.

But the AFP correspondent in Mai Mahiu township said people were still leaving their villages as armed gangs of youths played cat-and-mouse games with the security personnel.

Villagers in the camp here said the youths were wielding bows and arrows, machetes, spears, clubs and metal bars and that dozens of people had been in wounded in addition to those killed. Many also spoke of missing family members.

The weekend fighting was sparked when Maasai herders invaded a farm owned by a local Kikuyu leader accused of diverting water of the Ewaso Kedong river to irrigate his crops.

The Maasai said the diversion had cause a shortage of water downstream for their animals.

The Maasai and Kikuyu communities have been at loggerheads over access to water and pasture since 1960s.

On several occasions, Maasai politicians have argued that Kenya's first president Jomo Kenyatta, himself a Kikuyu, illegally allocated parcels of land to Kikuyu farmers three decades ago, denying them grazing land.

Fighting last week between Maasai and Kipsigi tribesmen near the Maasai Mara game reserve displaced more than 2,000 villagers.

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