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Kenyan families flee coastal areas after gunmen attacks

Source: Reuters - Mon, 7 Jul 2014 18:22 GMT
Author: Reuters
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A resident rummages through the ruins of her building burnt down after gunmen attacked Hindi village, near Kenya's coastal town of Lamu, July 6, 2014. REUTERS/Joseph Okanga
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By Joseph Akwiri

MOMBASA, Kenya, July 7 (Reuters) - About 500 families in the northern coastal region of Kenya have fled to nearby camps or left the area after gunmen killed 29 people over the weekend, Kenya Red Cross said, the latest in a series of deadly attacks in Lamu County.

Gunmen attacked government offices, torched a church and executed men in two small towns in Lamu County on Saturday night. About 65 people were killed in two similar raids in June in Mpeketoni town and a nearby village, in the same county.

Somali Islamist group al Shabaab has claimed responsibility for all four attacks but the government has suggested local politicians were behind them.

The exodus of people from their homes highlights a lack of confidence in the government's ability to halt the upswing in assaults on the coast and protect settlements.

Wariko Waita, spokeswoman for the Kenya Red Cross, said her agency was still assessing needs of the 500 families.

"Obviously many need medication, food, water, warm clothing like blankets, and counseling," she said.

"Some are coming to our temporarily established camps while others have decided to leave the area completely for safety, and have gone to their family and friends outside the area," she added.

Lamu County police chief Ephantus Kariuki said the attack could have been prompted by disputes between rival ethnic groups fighting for resources on the coast.

Long-standing land disputes have fuelled tensions between traditional coastal communities, President Uhuru Kenyatta's Kikuyu group, who mostly come from up country, and others. Rivalries between ethnic groups over land are common elsewhere in Kenya as well.

But diplomats and analysts say al Shabaab may have still had a role, even if local operators were also involved.

Jane Njeri, a Kikuyu from one of the towns attacked over the weekend, said she spent Sunday night in a corridor of a nightclub where many other women and children sheltered.

"For now we want to find a rescue camp and seek refuge there," she said. "My husband was among those killed in the attacks on Saturday and we are very scared."

One Kenyan military source said some families had turned up outside a military base in Lamu county. "We cannot allow them into the camp because our rules forbid it but we cannot send them away either," the officer told Reuters.

Others like Patricia Wangare, a mother of two who has a farm near Mpeketoni, said she felt threatened as a Kikuyu.

"It is very unsafe especially for us who are not natives," she said. "I have witnessed more than 10 people I know closely die in the recent attacks and I don't want to be the next victim."

(Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Edmund Blair and Ralph Boulton)

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