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KENYA-TANA Jan-18-2013 (350 words) xxxi

Bishops ask Kenya to end ethnic violence in Tana River region

By Francis Njuguna
Catholic News Service

NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) -- Kenyan bishops asked government leaders to end ethnic violence in the country's coastal region near the Tana River, where fighting has left hundreds killed and displaced in the last five months.

"Young children going to school have been killed with their school bags strapped on their backs while the elderly, unable to run for their safety, have been burned in their houses by their neighbors with whom they have lived closely for several decades," said a Jan. 18 statement signed by representatives of the bishops' justice and peace commission and heads of coastal dioceses.

"We are saddened and shocked by the violence and deaths in this part of the country but, more so, we are surprised that -- despite the heavy presence of the security agents, promises to end the violence, peace and reconciliation meetings -- nothing has changed," they said.

The bishops said the Tana Delta was known for its natural resources and urged the government to investigate if this was related to the prolonged violence.

"Could it be that there are external foreign forces or influence(s) that are behind the violence just to benefit a few selfish individuals?" they asked.

They also called on the government to prosecute those responsible for criminal activities.

"The National Police Service should undertake prompt and effective criminal investigation and apprehend all the perpetrators," they said, adding that an independent police oversight authority should investigate allegations against the police for their failure to anticipate the violence.

The bishops issued the statement after a delegation, led by Archbishop Zacchaeus Okoth of Kisumu, chairman of the bishops' justice and peace commission, visited the affected area Jan. 16.

They urged the Kenyan government to address root problems of the conflict, including "the land tenure system and minimal presence of security."

The bishops also urged the communities in the Tana River region "to turn from these kinds of evil deeds" and to seek peace and reconciliation with each other.

The two ethnic groups involved in the recent violence -- the Pokomo and Orma -- base their lifestyles mainly on farming and animal-rearing activities.

END


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