By Humphrey Malalo
NAIROBI (Reuters) - A government minister pleaded innocent in court on Wednesday to charges of inciting violence in which over 100 people have been shot, hacked and burnt to death in strife over land and water in Kenya's coastal region.
The scale and sudden intensity of the unrest over the past month has led many Kenyans to believe the bloodshed was instigated for political reasons and raised fears of serious tribal unrest ahead of elections next March.
Assistant Livestock Minister Dhadho Godana pleaded not guilty to incitement, was freed on bail and is to reappear in court on October 2. Magistrate Lucy Nyambura ordered Godana to refrain from making public comments about the violence.
Godana, whose constituency is located in the Tana Delta that was engulfed in the violence, had accused a political rival, acting Internal Security Minister Yusuf Haji, of whipping up the unrest, according to local media.
The charge sheet said that Godana, "without lawful excuse, uttered words to the effect that 'I am sure ... that you are yet to see more if Haji is not sacked from that docket (his security ministry)' - words which were meant to cause deaths or physical injury to residents of Tana Delta".
Local media alleged that Godana made the comments in the village of Kilelengwani a day after hundreds of assailants killed at least 38 inhabitants and torched houses.
Haji, who is also the defense minister, represents another constituency flanking the Tana River and is from a different tribe to Godana.
Settled Pokomo farmers and semi-nomadic Orma pastoralists have clashed intermittently for years over access to grazing, farmland and water in the coastal region. An influx of weapons in past years has upped the stakes.
Earlier this week, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said the Tana Delta violence was a "grim reminder" of the nationwide inter-ethnic fighting that ripped through Kenya after a disputed presidential election in late 2007.
Two contenders in next year's presidential election are among four high-profile Kenyans accused of crimes against humanity and due to face trial in April at the International Criminal Court in connection with the 2007-2008 violence.
In response to the coastal region bloodshed, President Mwai Kibaki imposed a curfew on Monday and sent extra security forces to the area. He has pledged to deal "firmly and decisively" with those behind the violence.
(Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Richard Lough and Mark Heinrich)