/ 16 April 2008

Kenyan cops arrest scores in crackdown on criminal gang

Kenyan police on Wednesday arrested scores of members of a criminal sect whose clashes with authorities this week caused 19 deaths, officials said, as the government vowed to deal ruthlessly with the gang.

Hundreds of riot police descended on Nairobi’s Eastlands slums and central Kenyan districts, home to the Mungiki sect, which rioted nationwide over the killing of its jailed leader’s wife.

The gang blamed police for the killing, which occurred last week.

At least 60 suspects were arrested on Wednesday, bringing the total to 230 people detained since Monday, police said. Several fled the crackdown.

”The crackdown is going on … It is massive because we are determined to bring these [Mungiki] activities to an end,” said police spokesperson Eric Kiraithe.

At least 19 people were killed on Monday and Tuesday when police battled rioting Mungiki members in a crisis that presented Kenya’s new coalition Cabinet with its first major challenge.

Police said they had beefed up operations in a bid to stamp out the Mungiki, an outlawed organisation that draws its numbers mainly from President Mwai Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe.

”We have intensified our security and we want to ensure that this criminal gang does not compromise public security,” Kiraithe added.

Massive search

Under pressure to address growing insecurity, National Security Minister George Saitoti has given orders for the sect’s network to be dismantled mainly in the Nairobi, Rift Valley and Central provinces.

”The government will not go to the extent of negotiating with these criminals. I have directed the police to deal ruthlessly with these criminals. We are cracking down on them and already a massive search is going on,” he told Parliament.

Police were seeking several guns, including known AK 47 rifles and two G3 rifles, which the gang uses to carry out attacks against police and the public, a commander said.

”Police will do all it takes to recover the guns since we have established that the guns have been used in various crimes and we foresee the dangers of such ruthless criminals having such deadly weapons,” the commander added.

Appearing on television this week, a spokesperson for the Mungiki warned the violence would not let up until the deaths of the gang leader’s wife and her driver were explained.

Meanwhile, public transport was paralysed in parts of Nairobi after vehicles were kept away for fear of being burnt. So far, Mungiki members have burned at least 40 public-transport and other vehicles since Monday.

The Mungiki have been linked with key officials from the president’s political camp and blamed in several rights reports for some of the ethnic violence that rocked the country after disputed December elections.

Since March last year, dozens of people have been killed by the Mungiki, several of them beheaded. Police responded with a crackdown in which they killed scores of gang members. — AFP