4 May 2011

Kenya: Ethiopia's Merille Militia Massacre 41 Turkanas

More than 41 members of the Turkana community were massacred near the border between Kenya and Uganda during an attack by militiamen from the Merille tribe in Ethiopia.

Rift Valley PC Osman Warfa confirmed the 41 deaths but other reports from the area put the figure of those killed at more than 50 and another 100 injured.

Some of the bodies were reportedly mutilated and the parts taken away by the armed killers for use in rituals. Among the dead were women and children who had accompanied their parents on the shopping trip.

The Kenyans had crossed into Ethiopia to buy food at Emorote market within Jinka District which is 60 kilometres inside the border near the Todanyang area. The killings happened between Emorote and Todanyang as the Kenyans were returning home after making their purchases.

Warfa led a high-powered security team to the area where they were expected to meet with their counterparts from Ethiopia. The meeting follows a formal complaint that the government made to Addis Ababa. "I am still in the area but we have received most of the details about the massacre. The reason for the massacre is not known but we will be able to establish the truth before too long," said the PC. His deputy, Wilson Wanyanga, is in charge of the North Rift region including Turkana.

Reports of the massacre by some of the survivors resulted in a revenge attack mounted by the Turkana who killed five members of the Merille community near Todonyang. The five were shot and their bodies hanged.

The massacre is the latest in attacks that have pitted communities within the Elemi Triangle - the once disputed triangular border area between Kenya, Sudan and Ethiopia - and the area has known no peace.

The region has been home to protracted and intermittent cattle rustling with many killed, maimed and much property lost. The Elemi Triangle has until recently been 'unwanted' and not economically developed by any regional government. Differences of perception and significance of the area between the authorities and the local herders has persisted for decades.

Apart from being the gateway to an area of Sudan rich in unexplored oil reserves, Elemi is only significant for its dry season pastures that support the Turkana, Didinga, Toposa, Inyangatom (Dong'iro) and Dassanech (Merille) communities, largely known as the Karamoja cluster groups of Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Sudan.

Armed cattle rustling conflicts between the Turkana of Kenya and Ethiopia's Merille have dominated headlines of the Elemi Triangle news. Between January 2002 and November 2004, at least 100 people were killed and unspecified number of livestock taken away.

In August last year, three General Service Unit officers were waylaid while on duty and shot dead by suspected Merille warriors at Todonyang, a Kenya-Ethiopia border post. No livestock was taken away. In October, the Merille attacked Turkana villages twice.

The first attack took place on the 16th when Merille warriors attacked Narakibuk village, Kokuro but were repelled by heavy artillery from the Turkana warriors. Neither life nor livestock were lost. The footprints of the adversaries were traced to Lochuch area in Merille land.

The second attack was on the 20th of the very month when about 20 Merille warriors attacked Meyen villages in Kokuro, killing two and injuring three Turkana herders. Unspecified number of livestock was driven away by the attackers. The raided livestock are yet to be recovered.

In this conflict, the Merille have been singled out as the main aggressors, as more and more Turkana fall victim to the attacks. Easy availability of guns has been cited as a major contributor and trigger of cattle-related conflicts in the triangle.

Virtually every male aged 17 years and above is presumed armed in the triangle, with a larger concentration of arms traced to Merille villages.

The vulnerability of the Turkana has been attributed to the frequent and sustained government efforts to disarm them even as the rival communities including those from the neighbouring Eastern Equatorial State continue to hold on to their arms. Most of the attacks on Kenyan Turkanas have occurred over pasture and theft of livestock.

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