MOMBASA, Kenya (Reuters) - Kenyan police arrested the leader of the separatist Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) and shot dead two supporters in a house raid on Monday, intensifying a crackdown on the movement seeking independence for the country’s coastal region.
Dozens of youths, some armed with machetes and clubs, who tried to prevent officers from detaining Omar Mwamnuadzi were also detained and a number of crude weapons seized, Coast province police chief Aggrey Adoli said.
The MRC is campaigning for the secession of the Indian Ocean coastal strip - a tourist hotspot and trade hub - and threatens to disrupt next March’s general election if its demand is not met, raising fears of violence.
The election will be the first since an international war crimes court charged four Kenyans with masterminding deadly tribal bloodletting after a disputed 2007 vote.
Kenya’s government said last week it had information that the MRC intended to sow chaos during national exams that began on Monday.
“These are not threats to take lightly. That is why you are seeing these crackdowns and they will not stop until we have dealt completely with the threat,” Internal Security Minister Katoo Ole Metito told local lawmakers and security chiefs in Mombasa. “There will be peaceful elections in Coast and our (school exam) candidates will sit exams in peace.”
After the morning raid in Kwale 20 km (12 miles) south of Mombasa, Mwamnuadzi was seen being escorted out of a police cell in the early afternoon in blood-stained clothing. His face looked swollen and covered in dry blood and he had to be supported as he was lifted into a police truck.
The MRC’s grievances stem from what it calls decades of social and economic marginalisation of the people in the coastal region of Kenya, east Africa’s largest economy.
Over the weekend Mohammad Dor, a legislator and prominent Muslim cleric from the region, accused the Nairobi government of harassing the MRC, which he said had legitimate grievances.
“What is wrong with funding MRC? These are people with genuine concerns. I am willing and ready to fund them if they approach me,” he told reporters in Mombasa, the region’s biggest port and main city.
Kenya’s coastline is a magnet for foreign tourists and jewel of the economy with its white sand beaches and turquoise waters, while Mombasa is a critical commercial centre for Kenya and export outlet for its landlocked neighbours.
Dor spoke a few days after the government said it was investigating three politicians and two businessmen it believed were funding the MRC.
Another senior MRC official, Mwero wa Mwadadu, said police had beaten up numerous supporters during Monday’s dawn raid and he denied that the group intended to disrupt the school exams.
“They have been looking for us (and) framing us for crimes we haven’t committed,” Mwadadu told Reuters. “We mean peace. We don’t mean to disrupt exams, those are false allegations, but what we don’t want are elections in coast.”
Earlier this month MRC spokesman Mohamed Mraja and secretary Randu Nzai Ruwa were charged with inciting members to disobey the law, shortly after a gang of youths brandishing machetes attacked a cabinet minister and killed his bodyguard.
Police linked the attack to the MRC, but the group denied involvement.