Kenyan policeman killed in battle with banned cult

Nairobi, Kenya - A Kenyan policeman was killed on Tuesday in Nairobi by suspected members of an outlawed sect accused of killings and extortion.

Fighting erupted last month between the banned Mungiki sect and operators of private minibuses known locally as matatus, who accuse the sect of extortion and kidnapping.

"There was a shootout, a policeman has been killed, it is most unfortunate," said police spokesman Eric Kiraithe. Residents said the clashes have killed at least three people in the capital.

Mungiki, whose name means multitude in the local Kikuyu language, was banned in 2002 after members armed with knives and clubs killed more than 20 people in a Nairobi slum.

Police say 10,000 Mungiki members have been arrested since January 2007. The cult instils fear and respect by promoting archaic Kikuyu rituals like swearing tribal oaths.

Last month, matatu operators burnt down seven houses in a Nairobi suburb owned by people believed to be Mungiki.

These latest clashes and others in Kenya's Mount Elgon and Tana River regions have led to fears that insecurity will worsen as the country heads towards parliamentary and presidential elections, expected in December.

Police Commissioner Hussein Ali said his force would not tolerate lawlessness in the run-up to the elections.

"Anyone found breaking the law must be prepared to face the consequences ... regardless of political affiliation. Elections cannot be an excuse for breaking the law," he said in a statement seen by Reuters on Tuesday.