Kenya approves new, more independent, head of police

NAIROBI Thu Dec 20, 2012 3:25pm EST

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NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya's parliament approved a national head of police for a fixed six-year term, in a move aimed to boost independence from political interference for security forces dogged by a reputation for corruption.

The stamp of approval for David Kimaiyo as the country's first Inspector General of Police on Thursday comes as Kenya prepares for national elections in March, the first since a disputed 2007 vote provoked ethnic clashes that killed more than 1,200 people and threw a spotlight on security force failings.

Kimaiyo, a former commandant of para-military police usually deployed to quell riots, was nominated by President Mwai Kibaki after being selected in interviews televised live nationally.

In the past, top police commanders could be fired and were accused of aligning themselves with the ruling elite to ensure they hold their posts. The position of inspector general, to be in charge of the three main wings of Kenya's police, was created under a new constitution adopted in 2010.

Critics say officers are poorly paid and the police force has been named as the country's most corrupt institution in many surveys.

Kenya has been hit by gun, grenade and bomb attacks in its capital, Nairobi, the port city of Mombasa and in towns near its frontier with Somalia, which authorities suspect to be the work of Somali Islamist groups. Kenya sent its troops into southern Somalia in October last year to hunt down militants it accused of cross-border security raids and kidnappings.

At least 32 police officers were killed in a military-style ambush in a remote northern part of the country in November, described as the worst attack on police in Kenya's history.

(Reporting by Humphrey Malalo; Writing by James Macharia; editing by Jason Webb)

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