Three days of clashes have overrun the remote village of Turbi and surrounding areas, about 580 kilometres from Nairobi, after a brutal massacre and reprisal attack between rival Borana and Gabra clans.
“As a result of the fears, around 6,000 people have fled into Marsabit town,” Farid Abdul Karid, head of the Kenya Red Cross Society’s disaster response unit, told the Agence France Presse (AFP) news service.
Officers from the General Service Unit (GSU), a paramilitary wing of the Kenyan police, have been sent into Turbi in an effort to quell the tit-for-tat fighting.
The Borana and Gabra have long fought over water and pasture in the semi-arid region near the Ethiopian border.
This week, tensions spilled over after a group of between 300 and 500 Borana raiders reportedly set upon a Gabra village, killing 56 people including 22 children.
At least 10 of the attackers also died and a reprisal carried out by avenging Gabras killed nine Borana’s, four of them children.
The bloody attacks are thought to be the worst-ever single episode of inter-clan violence in Kenya’s post-colonial history.
Dozens of patients were admitted to the Marsabit District Hospital, with 11 of the seriously wounded airlifted to the capital.
The violence has spread to outlying towns, with police confirming two Borana men killed in retaliatory attacks in the small border community of Rawana, to the northeast of Turbi.
There have also been reports of unrest in the township of Sololo, a predominantly Borana town about 30 kilometres north of Turbi, but police have not been able to confirm this.
Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki condemned the attacks and has called for calm.
But a leading Kenyan human rights group has lashed out at the government, accusing it of neglecting the remote region which is known for its clan feuds.
“That hundreds of armed criminals can terrorise a town for hours without the intervention of the country’s security forces is a clear indication that the government has little or no authority in the North Eastern region,” the Kenyan Human Rights Commission said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the Vatican Embassy in Nairobi has confirmed the killing of an archbishop in the country’s north.
Luigi Locati, 76, was reportedly fatally wounded while walking to a pastoral centre in Isiolo, the town where he was based.
According to the Associated Press news agency, Bishop Locati was taken to hospital where he died from gunshot injuries.
Church officials said no motive for the killing had been established.