Kenyan police shoot to kill in sect round-up

Nairobi, Kenya - Kenyan police arrested 5 000 people in a crackdown on a banned sect blamed for grisly murders, local media reported on Wednesday.

Police swooped into Nairobi's Mathare slum after the killings and subsequent beheadings of at least half a dozen people by the outlawed Mungiki sect, and rounded up men, women and children said to be linked to the group.

After a shoot-to-kill policy was authorised by the government, police shot dead more than 30 people, sparking condemnations by international rights group Amnesty International.

"The government will use all means at its disposal to stamp out all criminal gangs. We will not negotiate," said Peter Munya, the Assistant Minister of Internal Security.

The independent Daily Nation reported that at least 1 000 of those arrested were linked to Mungiki. It was unclear why police were holding the other 4 000.

Since the beheadings last month, panic has spread across the capital, Nairobi, and its lush green hinterland, where Mungiki is known to operate.

The group was started in the 1990s by unemployed youths from Kenya's largest Kikuyu tribe, who wanted to return to their traditional religious roots. It evolved into a criminal ring, charging protection fees from passengers and drivers using Kenya's lucrative minibuses, and was banned in 2002 following a string of slum violence.

The recent Mungiki flare-up comes ahead of elections later this year, which will see President Mwai Kibaki run for a second term. Observers say some high-ranking politicians are linked to the group and may use the collective fear to their political gain.