MOMBASA, Kenya (Reuters) - At least four Kenyan police officers, deployed to keep the peace in a tense presidential election following hundreds of deaths after a 2007 vote, were hacked to death by a gang hours before polling stations opened on Monday, a senior officer said.
The attackers, who struck a patrol near the port city of Mombasa, could not immediately be identified, but Ambrose Munyasia, chief of police intelligence in the Coast area, said he suspected they were linked to a regional separatist movement.
The Kenyan authorities have worked hard to ensure a peaceful vote to restore Kenya's image as one of Africa's most stable democracies. Candidates have also appealed for a calm election.
If the attack is proved to be linked to the separatist Mombasa Republican Council, it would suggest entirely different motives than the 2007 post-vote violence that was between tribal loyalists of rival candidates who disputed the election result. Such a motive could prevent it from having a broader national impact.
The council had sought and failed to have the national vote scrapped and to hold a referendum on independence in its place.
"Our officers who were on night patrol were attacked by a gang of youths wielding machetes and as a result four of the officers were killed. Two among the dead are senior officers who were overseeing the patrol," Munyasia said.
"We suspect the attackers were members of the Mombasa Republican Council, but we are yet to confirm," he said.
Julius Marwa, district commissioner in the area of Mombasa, had earlier reported the attack on the police patrol, saying it had occurred in the region of Changamwe, a few kilometers outside the port city.
(Reporting in Joseph Akwiri in Mombasa; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Eric Beech)