* Government intensifies crackdown, arrests against group
* Leader of separatist group arrested earlier this week (Adds attack)
MOMBASA, Kenya, Oct 20 (Reuters) - Kenya on Saturday told members of a separatist group to surrender or face arrest as the east African country intensified a crackdown on the movement ahead of an election next year.
The Mombasa Republican Council’s (MRC) campaign for the secession of Kenya’s Indian Ocean coastal strip, a tourist hotspot and trade hub, is just one of many concerns ahead of the March election, the first since the 2007 poll after which some 1,200 people were killed and thousands displaced.
“I am asking all MRC officials and members who are still out there to surrender voluntarily and also surrender their weapons this weekend,” Coast province commissioner Samuel Kilele said at a gathering for national day celebrations in Mombasa.
“We know them and we will go for them if they don’t heed this call. We will go for them and arrest them,” he said.
President Mwai Kibaki also said his government would take decisive action against those who “issued threats of secession or those who threaten our security”.
Earlier this week, Kenyan police arrested MRC leader Omar Mwamnuadzi and later charged him with possession of firearms and incitement to violence.
A Kenyan court charged a lawmaker and prominent Muslim preacher for inciting violence after he said he would be willing to fund the group.
On Saturday, machete-wielding men attempted to raid a police station in Kaloleni district, 30 km (18 miles) west of Mombasa, before being repelled by police, Erastus Kidor, Kilifi’s government commissioner, said.
They then managed to raid a police camp further away, wounding a police officer and escaping with a rifle, he said.
Police recovered “machetes and printed material bearing the MRC logo” from the scene of the first attack.
“So preliminarily we are linking the incident to MRC,” Kidor said, adding three people had been arrested for interrogation.
The MRC could not immediately be reached for comment.
A Mombasa court issued arrest warrants on Friday for five MRC officials for failing to appear in court to answer charges of being members of an unlawful society.
MRC’s grievances stem from what it calls decades of social and economic marginalisation of the people in the coastal region of Kenya, east Africa’s largest economy.
Earlier this month, MRC spokesman Mohamed Mraja and secretary Randu Nzai Ruwa were charged with inciting members to disobey the law, shortly after a gang of youths brandishing machetes attacked a cabinet minister and killed his bodyguard.
Police linked the attack to the MRC, but the group denied involvement. Kenyan security agents investigating the group, formed in 1999, believe it is backed by wealthy Arabs.
Kenyan officials say MRC is infiltrated by fighters from al-Qaeda-linked Islamist group al Shabaab, which has waged a five-year insurgency against Somalia’s government in 2007.
Kenya’s troops crossed into Somalia a year ago to crush the militants whom it blamed for attacks and kidnappings on its soil. Three weeks ago, Kenya’s defence forces - under the umbrella of African Union troops (AMISOM) - took control of the Somali port city of Kismayu, al Shabaab’s last major bastion.
Police have carried out raids in the coastal region against suspected al Shabaab members. Three suspects were killed in a raid on Wednesday in which a police officer also died. (Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Sophie Hares)