Nairobi: At least 38 people were killed when Ethiopian armed men attacked a rival community in a remote border region of north Kenya, a local official said on Wednesday, warning the toll could rise.
"Where the incident occurred is very remote and mostly not accessible," Kenya`s Rift Valley Provincial Commissioner Osman Warfa told a news agency.
"Security forces have been combing the area since last (Tuesday) evening and the number of people killed by Merile militia men from Ethiopia is now 38," he added.
The raid had targeted fishermen and cattle herders from Kenya`s Turkana community, who are normally armed in that region, he said. But several women coming home from market also got caught up in the fighting and were killed.
"By yesterday (Tuesday) only 18 bodies had been found. We had reports that more people had been killed but we had not found all the bodies.
"Based on the total number of bodies found so far, 38 people in all were killed," Warfa said, adding that the death toll might rise further.
Police said those killed will be buried in a mass grave as soon as the bodies are positively identified.
"A security operation has been launched in the area and we are working with authorities from Ethiopia to help us apprehend those who committed the atrocities and help secure the border," Warfa said.
There is a history of cross border inter-community violence between the Turkana and the Merile.
However Warfa said the two groups "have been living peacefully in recent weeks and even doing cross-border trade."
"We don`t understand where the animosity came from," he said.
Turkana Member of Parliament John Munyes, who visited the scene of the killing Wednesday evening said Merile tradition dictates that newly-circumcised young men must kill as proof of their virility.
"After circumcision, you must look for a Turkana to prove your manhood," he said.
Munyes said poverty in the Lake Turkana region had also played a role as Turkana had been obliged to look for food a long way from their homes.
The raid happened at Todonyang, a village where the Merile and the Turkana used to cohabit, engaging in trade and intermarrying.
A misunderstanding broke out between the two communities in 1997 and this eventually led to inter-tribal skirmishes and raids. The inhabitants of Todonyang were eventually dispersed, with the Meriles crossing into Ethiopia and most of the Turkanas migrating to another village.
One factor often said to have contributed to inter-tribal clashes in the region is the gradual drying up of the 250-kilometre (155-mile) long Lake Turkana in a region that is already impoverished.
This has led to fish migrating north and in turn to Turkana fishermen taking their boats further north where they clash with Merile fishermen competing for the same catch.