Kenya police ambush toll rises to 42

An injured policeman lies on a hospital bed in Nairobi on November 11, recounting how he and others were attacked in Baragoi in northern Kenya on November 10. The death toll from a weekend ambush on Kenyan police officers in the north of the country -- the deadliest ever -- has risen to 42 after more bodies were found, police said

The death toll from a weekend ambush on Kenyan police officers in the north of the country -- the deadliest ever -- has risen to 42 after more bodies were found, police said.

"We have never lost such a big number of officers," a police source said on condition of anonymity.

Officers hunting cattle thieves were ambushed by gunmen on Saturday in Baragoi, a remote district in Kenya's arid north.

"The number of police officers killed is now 42. More bodies were recovered this afternoon," the source said.

"We are undertaking a major security operation on the ground," said police spokesman Eric Kiraithe, without elaborating.

Nine other officers are recovering in hospital from their wounds, Kiraithe said.

The group of rustlers police were pursuing were already suspected of killing 13 people in a raid on October 30.

Police 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 to be attacked by rustlers.

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 100 lives, including those of several police officers, in August and September.

Kenya has also suffered a wave of grenade attacks, often blamed on Islamist supporters of Somalia's Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab insurgents and sometimes aimed at police targets. Police have also launched a crackdown on a coastal separatist movement.