Raiders armed with guns, machetes and spears killed 30 people, including several children, and torched their houses in Kenya's coastal region on Friday, police said, heightening security concerns ahead of next year's election.
Nine of the raiders were also killed in what appeared to have been a revenge attack by settled Pokomo farmers against the semi-nomadic Orma pastoralists after a series of clashes in August in which more than 100 people were killed.
The two groups have fought for years over access to grazing, farmland and water, but human rights groups have blamed the latest violence on politicians seeking to drive away parts of the local population they believe will vote for their rivals in presidential and parliamentary elections in March.
If those charges are true, it further raises fears of a repeat of the ethnic violence that rocked Kenya after the disputed 2007 presidential election, in which more than 1,200 people were killed countrywide and many more thousands driven from their homes.
"About 150 Pokomo raiders attacked Kipao village which is inhabited by the Ormas early on Friday. The Ormas appeared to have been aware and were prepared," Robert Kitur, Coast Region deputy police chief, told reporters.
One survivor said the attackers stuck at dawn.
"There were too many gunshots. They used also spears and machetes. I ran out of my house and left behind my wife and two children, and told them not to leave ... but the enemies reached my house, killed my family and burnt my house as I watched from where I was hiding," said Osman Amran, 63, of the Orma tribe, who lay on a hospital bed with deep cut wounds on both thighs.
President Mwai Kibaki instructed security forces to prevent further deaths. Kibaki imposed a curfew in September 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.
BURNS AND BULLET WOUNDS
Police sent an additional team of 200 paramilitary officers to the region to quell the fighting.
Police had already been deployed to the area in September after the attacks in August. It was unclear how the latest violence erupted while officers were on the ground, something which also baffling to the police.
"We are still trying to establish how these attacks escaped the knowledge of the officers on the ground. The officers responded after most of the damage had been done," Kitur said.
Police said six women and 13 children were among the dead and nine of the attackers were killed. Many bled to death from wounds inflicted with machetes. The village was deserted as the survivors fled for fear of further attacks.
Kenya Red Cross, which has a team on the ground treating the wounded, put the death toll at 32, including several children, with about 45 houses set on fire. Red Cross photographs posted on Twitter showed the injured being treated for serious cuts to the arms and head. One person had lost an arm.
"We have been administering first aid services to many with cuts, some very deep on various body parts especially the head and back. Others have burns and bullet wounds," said Mwanaisha Hamisi, the Coast regional Red Cross coordinator.
"It is almost overwhelming but we have mobilised our people from other areas of the province."
Prolonged trouble at the coast would cause jitters among some tourists and may affect Kenya's vital tourism industry, already damaged by the kidnappings of Western tourists from beach resorts by Somali gunmen and grenade attacks in the port city of Mombasa, at the height of the tourist season.
Dams along the Tana River, Kenya's longest, supply about two-thirds of the east African state's electricity, but the fighting has so far not threatened electricity generation.
(Writing by James Macharia)