By Joseph Akwiri
MOMBASA, Kenya (Reuters) - Kenyan police have arrested five clan leaders and four chiefs in connection with an attack that killed 53 people in a long-running dispute over land and water in a rural part of the east of the country, a senior provincial official said on Friday.
Armed with machetes, bows and arrows and spears, attackers from the Pokomo ethnic group locked villagers from the rival Orma group in their homes, set the structures alight and killed anyone who tried to escape late on Tuesday.
Settled Pokomo farmers and semi-nomadic Orma pastoralists have clashed intermittently for years over access to grazing, farm land and water resources.
Samuel Kilele, government commissioner for Coast province, told reporters in the port city of Mombasa the arrested elders are accused of organizing and leading the raid and the chiefs of failing to alert authorities about the planned attacks.
"They had prior information which they did not share with us so that we could intervene before the attacks occurred. We have sacked all of them, and will take them to court next week to face charges of complicity and abetting crime," Kilele said.
"We are pursuing 10 other ring-leaders of the attack, whose names we have, and who will assist us to arrest all those who participated in the killings."
The initial death toll of 48 rose to 53 after five more victims died in hospital, with 12 others still undergoing treatment, police said.
The Kenya Red Cross has put the death toll at 62.
Kilele said police were carrying out a disarmament exercise in the area and had so far recovered rifles, machetes, arrows and spears.
"We will get these weapons, all of them, by any means necessary including force, because we asked them to surrender weapons voluntarily and they failed," Kilele said.
Cattle rustling and clashes over grazing and farm land are relatively common between communities in arid areas of east Africa and often escalate with revenge attacks.
The long dispute between the two groups erupted after the farmers accused the pastoralists of grazing their cattle in their land.
Top Kenya government officials, among them Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere, have visited the area and promised to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Fifty of the dead were buried in a mass grave on Thursday.
"I ... take this opportunity to express my deep concern over the senseless loss of lives and property following clashes between some communities in parts of the country. This will not be tolerated," President Mwai Kibaki said in a speech during a graduation ceremony for new police officers.
"I put on notice those inciting and creating lawlessness and taking the law into their hands, that they will be dealt with firmly in accordance with the law."
(Editing by George Obulutsa and Jon Hemming)