5 Kenyans killed near Somali border

2012-01-12 11:56

Nairobi - Gunmen killed five Kenyans including three policemen in the latest of a string of attacks in the north-eastern border region with war-torn Somalia, police said on Thursday.

Two other policemen were wounded in the attack some 100km from Somalia - an area hit by a series of blasts in the three months since Nairobi sent troops into Somalia to fight Islamist Shabaab insurgents.

"The attack occurred at a camp in Gerille in Wajir on Wednesday night and we lost three officers, two others were injured," a senior police officer in the region told AFP on condition of anonymity.

A local government official and a civilian were also killed, he said, adding the attackers had used firearms and thrown an explosive device.

"There are others who have not been accounted for," the officer added.

"A major security operation is currently underway and a helicopter has been sent to search for 13 police officers missing after the attack."

Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe confirmed the incident but said he had not yet "received the full details."

No group claimed responsibility, but Kenyan officials have blamed Somalia's al-Qaeda linked Shabaab rebels and their symphathisers for previous bombings and shootings, although armed bandits also operate in border areas.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned Thursday that Kenyan security forces were abusing civilians and Somali refugees in north-eastern regions following the spate of attacks since Nairobi sent troops into Somali in October.

Repeated promises

Hand grenades have been thrown into bars and a church, while homemade explosive devices have been set off apparently targeting security forces.

"In response, members of the security forces have been responsible for rape, beatings, looting, and arbitrary arrests of civilians," the New York-based rights group said in a statement on Thursday.

"The crackdown has largely targeted Somali refugees and Kenyan ethnic Somalis, but residents of other ethnic backgrounds in North Eastern province have also been victimized."

The most recent incident, HRW said, was the rounding up and beating on January 11 of residents of Garissa, the capital of North Eastern Province, in a local military camp.

"When military officers can beat civilians in broad daylight without fearing repercussions, it's clear that impunity has become the norm," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at HRW.

"Repeated promises by both the police and the military to stop these abuses and investigate have amounted to nothing."

Kenyan army spokesperson Major Emmanuel Chirchir told HRW that he did not have knowledge of any abuses, but that that the military would investigate the claims.

Gunmen have recently also targeted Dadaab, the world's largest refugee camp about 100 kilometres south of Wednesday's attack, which houses some 460 000 Somalis who have fled famine and war over the past two decades.

Gunmen seized two Spaniards working for Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) from Dadaab in October and are thought to have taken them to Somalia.

The kidnapping of the Spaniards was one of the incidents that spurred Kenya to send troops to fight the hardline Shebab.

Regional armies are pushing against Shabaab positions in Somalia, with Kenyan forces in the far south, Ethiopian soldiers in the west and African Union forces in Mogadishu made up of troops from Uganda, Burundi and Djibouti.