Nairobi - At least 18 people have been killed in fierce fighting between two communities over land in southern Ethiopia and 20,000 refugees have fled to Kenya, the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) said on Monday.
Fighting broke out last Thursday because of a dispute over the Ethiopian government's decision to settle the Garri community on land which the Borana claim to own, KRCS said in a statement on its website.
Thousands of refugees, segregated by ethnicity, are camped out in schools and a mosque around the Kenyan town of Moyale. Others are being given refuge by local Kenyan residents.
"Most of the families are in the open cold with their children for lack of shelter," KRCS said.
"The humanitarian situation is dire bearing in mind that the effects of the HOA drought on the populations in the conflict areas are also still being felt," it said.
The Garri and Borana communities straddle the Kenyan and Ethiopian borders.
Life in arid northern Kenya is precarious, with millions still reliant upon food aid following a severe drought in 2011. Heavily armed pastoralist communities regularly clash over land, water and cattle in the remote borderlands.
Some refugees started to return to Ethiopia on Monday after Ethiopia's federal government intervened in the clash-hit areas, Abbas Gullet, the secretary general of KRCS, told AlertNet.
"The federal security forces are taking control of the security situation from regional security officials and they are looking for an amicable solution to the disputes," Gullet said.
At least 12 people have been injured, but they are reluctant to seek medical help at facilities thought to belong to rival communities, KRCS said.
"The reported injuries include gun wounds, fractures, bleeding, and internal bleeding," it said.
The KRCS Moyale Branch response team is waiting for more casualties to reach the Kenyan border from the Ethiopian interior where the fighting is taking place, KRCS said.