Two mass graves were found in Kenya’s coastal Tana River region and 20 people were charged with murder, police said on Tuesday, after a wave of intertribal fighting that killed more than 100 people over the past month.
The scale of the recent unrest has left many Kenyans convinced it was politically instigated and it has raised fears of serious tribal fighting before elections next March.
The graves were discovered in the village of Kilelengwani, where raiders shot, hacked and burnt to death 38 people last week, including nine police officers.
On Tuesday, police charged 20 people with murder in connection with the killings. It was not immediately clear if they all came from one particular tribe or village.
“The men, while armed with weapons, listed as guns, machetes, knives, bows and arrows, attacked villages namely Kilelengwani, Kipini and Ozi and set houses ablaze as they killed up to 108 local innocent citizens,” the charge sheet read.
David Kiprotich, a local government official, said the suspects were found hiding in a forest in possession of crude weapons, military uniforms and binoculars.
President Mwai Kibaki imposed a curfew last week and sent extra security forces to the area to try to end the violence, intensified by an influx of weapons in the last few years.
Regional police chief Aggrey Adoli said the bodies would be exhumed from the mass graves once the courts gave approval.
“We don’t know yet whether they are attackers who died while in confrontation with security personnel, or were just victims killed by attackers during the clashes and buried,” Adoli said.
“We can’t know how many bodies are buried in the graves until we exhume.”
Settled Pokomo farmers and seminomadic Orma tribesmen have clashed for years over access to grazing, farmland and water in the coastal region. Dams along the Tana River, Kenya’s longest, supply about two-thirds of the east African state’s electricity.