Kenya tightened security at its northern border with Ethiopia after the rebel Oromo Liberation Front said it attacked a military convoy in the neighboring country.
The deployment comes amid increased tension in the market town of Moyale that straddles the two countries’ boundary after Ethiopian forces “mistakenly” killed nine civilians and injured 12 others on March 10, forcing thousands of ethnic Oromos to flee to Kenya.
Kenyan police increased their presence in Moyale to 20 at each border-entry point, while four Kenya Defence Forces tanks are stationed at border crossing points, said Halkano Halake, spokesman for the governor of Kenya’s northern Marsabit county.
“Regular police increased to 20 at each border entry point,” said Halake. “Two artillery tanks are stationed at crossing points. Two more at other entry points.”
Kenya police spokesman Charles Owino didn’t answer two calls to his mobile phone seeking comment, while KDF spokesman David Obonyo said the army hasn’t deployed more forces.
“We have always had security personnel along the border and in the general area of Moyale,” Obonyo said by phone from the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. “We have had a lot of influx of people from Ethiopia into Kenya and the internal-security organs and other humanitarian agencies are dealing with it.”
The Oromo Liberation Front said in a statement March 13 its forces this week carried out two attacks on Ethiopian forces patrolling Moyale and on a military convoy traveling near the border “in retaliation for the massacre the regime committed in Moyale.” It said 72 Ethiopian soldiers died in the attack.
Halake couldn’t independently verify the number of casualties claimed by the OLF.
Ethiopian Information Minister Negeri Lencho referred a request for comment to Defense Minister Siraj Fegessa, who along with Addisu Arega, a spokesman for the Oromia region’s government, didn’t respond to two calls and two text messages each seeking comment.
Thousands of ethnic Oromo refugees have fled across the border into Kenya since the civilian killings in Moyale. About 8,200 are hosted in eight temporary camps in Marsabit county, Halake said, citing Marsabit Governor Mohammed Mohamoud Ali.
Ethiopian state-owned Oromia Broadcasting Network has put the number of people who fled to Kenya at 50,000, citing Aschalew Yohannes, the mayor of Moyale in Ethiopia. Six calls to Aschalew’s mobile phone didn’t connect.
Food shortages in Moyale have “reached a crisis phase” as Kenyan host families have depleted their food supplies, Ali said in a statement forwarded to Bloomberg by Halake.
“There is no access to adequate health-care,” he said. “There is no water for household consumption and lack of water storage containers in addition to open disposal of human waste.”
— With assistance by Bella Genga