By Idil Abshir
NAIROBI-Clashes between two tribal communities in Kenya's restive Tana River area erupted again on Tuesday despite a dusk-to-dawn curfew, leaving four people dead, in violence that has driven out residents and brought renewed scrutiny of the country's security situation.
The bloodshed came as Prime Minister Raila Odinga promised "decisive action" to return calm to the region. He criticized local law enforcement for failing to stop the clashes in Tana, the worst ethnic conflict in the country since the postelection violence in 2008.
"Give us one or two days because it is clear that those in the area are unable to deal with the situation and we will take it to another level," Mr. Odinga said, according to the Capital FM radio station in Nairobi.
Weeks of revenge attacks between the Pokomo farming community and the Orma pastoralist community have left 116 people dead, more than 12,000 displaced and over 160 homes burned. The curfew was imposed late Monday by President Mwai Kibaki after a clash that killed 38 people, including children and police.
Much of the fighting has taken place around the towns and villages of the Tana Delta area, about 500 miles southeast of Nairobi. The broader coastal region is also on edge after the recent killing of a radical Muslim cleric sparked riots in the nearby port city of Mombasa, the country's second-largest city after the capital.
The government curfew marked the biggest step so far to tackle the violence in Tana, amid growing public criticism of the government's perceived inaction over mounting casualties. Kenyan lawmakers called on Mr. Kibaki to send troops to the region.
The Kenyan Red Cross, which has been leading the crisis-response efforts, said Tuesday's attacks resulted in fewer casualties than previous clashes because so many villagers had already fled the area. "The situation is tense," said Red Cross spokesman Peter Outa.
Long-standing tensions over access to land and water have pitted the seminomadic Orma against the Pokomo. Said Ali, a Mombasa-based teacher, and a native of Kau, the first village in the Tana River region to be attacked and burned down, said the use of guns has made the clashes much more deadly than in the past.
"There are usually tribal clashes between the farmers and the pastoralists-it's normal," Mr. Ali said. "But it is the way it has escalated, with firearms and the deployment of security forces, that has made us suspect it is political."
A secessionist movement active in Kenya's coastal region, the Mombasa Republican Council, has been accused of stirring up simmering regional conflict in a bid to further its agenda of greater autonomy.
With national elections set for March, fears are growing that the movement is seeking to capitalize on pre-election tensions in a country that struggles with deep ethnic and religious divisions.
The potential political dimensions of Tana's crisis increase the prospect of more violence, said Dahir Ismail, a field officer for Tana county and chairman of the Kenya Muslim Youth Alliance based in Hola town.
"When it started it was farmers and pastoralists, but that is no longer just the case-now there's political influences," Mr. Ismail said. "Things are out of hand