NAIROBI, Nov 12 – The police death toll from an ambush on Kenyan officers in the north of the country rose to 31 on Monday after more bodies were found, police said, as they beefed up security in the region.
“More bodies were found this morning, the number of police officers killed is 31,” said police spokesman Eric Kiraithe. Nine other officers are recovering in hospital from their wounds.
“We are undertaking a major security operation on the ground,” he said.
Police officers hunting cattle thieves were ambushed by gunmen on Saturday in the remote northern Baragoi district.
The group of rustlers police were pursuing were already suspected of killing 13 people in another raid on October 30.
They set out after the rustlers when a deadline for the return of the cattle expired.
Cattle theft and the ensuing clashes between rival pastoralist groups claim dozens of lives every year in arid northern Kenya. However, it is rare for police officers themselves to be attacked.
The violence is not believed to be linked to politics, but it raises concerns over security and a lack of police capacity in volatile areas ahead of elections due to take place in March.
Elections five years ago descended into deadly post-poll killings that shattered Kenya’s image as a beacon of regional stability.
Wilfred Kapondi, chairman of the parliamentary committee on security, said that the attack had “exposed our security force’s lack of capacity”.
“It is time they took serious action and ensure the police have adequate machinery to deal with criminals,” Kapondi told reporters.
“More than 30 police officers killed at once is an issue that raises serious concern.”
Elsewhere in Kenya, in the southeast Tana River region, inter-communal violence claimed more than a hundred lives in August and September.
Kenya has also suffered a wave of grenade attacks, often blamed on Islamist supporters of Somalia’s Al-Qaeda linked Shabaab fighters, while police have also launched a crackdown on a coastal separatist movement.