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Chinese firm halts construction work due to northern Kenya insecurity

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MARSABIT, Kenya, Dec. 2 (Xinhua) -- The Chinese construction firm, China Wu Yi, has indefinitely suspended work on a key Isiolo- Moyale road following inter-communal clashes which have rocked northern Kenya.

In a statement released on Monday, the Chinese firm said it has been forced to suspend work after its staff, security team vehicles and machineries came under heavy attacks by armed militias engaged in the conflict.

"We have decided to suspend construction work along Isiolo- Moyale highway due to insecurity but will resume work when the situation is normalized," Yi Bao of the company said in the statement issued in Moyale.

The Isiolo-Moyale road is the Kenyan section of the Trans- Africa Highway Corridor being upgraded to bitumen standards by the government with support of the African Development Bank (AfDB) and China Exim Bank.

The Kenyan section of the corridor starts at the Tanzanian border of Namanga, through Nairobi, Thika Super Highway-Isiolo and Marsabit and terminates at the border with Ethiopia in Moyale.

The road is also a key link to the Great North Trans African Highway, which connects Cape Town, South Africa and Cairo, Egypt and has been identified as a priority project in the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) short-term action plan.

The construction of Turbi-Moyale road between Kenya and Ethiopia was stopped after rival communities resorted to attacking, burning and looting vehicles last week.

The Chinese firm said it arrived at the decision following consultations with the security arms of the government after its vehicles were attacked.

One of the firm's vehicles was hijacked on Sunday by armed militias. A truck belonging to a senior businessman was set ablaze in an attack.

The driver of the second truck managed to escape. Security personnel from Turbi rescued passengers aboard the truck being torched.

"There has been an exchange between the rival militias since Thursday and Saturday where the firm officials were caught in cross fire but not injured," the firm said.

Fighting between the Borana and Gabra communities began in December 2011, primarily over control of resources such as water and grazing land.

Yi said the exchange of hostilities between the Borana and Gabra communities forced its 14 workers to flee the area where they were conducting hydro-geological survey.

He said the militias used grenades and mortars during a fierce fire exchange that lasted for hours.

Yi said, "We will resume work when the government assures us that the safety of our staffs and protect is okay."

Local leaders who were led by Saku lawmaker Ali Rasso called on the two communities to dialogue and end revenge attack on highway. Raso said the government should take full responsibility of protecting the firm and the passengers.

Marsabit County Commissioner Isaiah Nakoru held a crisis security meeting to address the challenges as militias took control of the great north roads.

He directed police to deploy enough security officers to patrol along the highway to avert the attack. Transport services have been paralyzed for six days as trucks and buses keep off the roads.

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