MOMBASA, Kenya (Reuters) - Sixty men armed with machetes, clubs and bows and arrows tried and failed to steal guns from a police station in Mombasa, in the biggest attack planned by separatists seeking independence for Kenya's Indian Ocean coastal strip, police said on Monday.
Police intercepted the men on their way to the station. They said they belonged to the secessionist Mombasa Republic Council (MRC), an accusation rejected by its leaders, and that three separatists were later killed in a raid on a MRC hideout.
With a national election due next year, the first since a disputed 2007 vote, police say they are concerned about rising violence by the MRC, campaigning for secession in the trade hub and popular tourist destination.
Local police chief Julius Wanjohi said police believed the men involved in the failed attack were planning to steal their guns. "They may have been...planning to cause trouble ahead of the elections, but they had better not try it because we are prepared for them."
Police said four men arrested early on Monday admitted to being MRC members and led authorities to a hideout where they believed the MRC chairman was based.
"When we got there, we were attacked by arrows and stones from unknown people who were on top of the building. We shot back killing three," Wanjohi said.
A crackdown against the MRC by the Kenyan government has seen most of its leaders arraigned in court over the past few months.
The MRC denied involvement in the planned raid on the police station and distanced itself from those involved.
"We have told our members to be calm, and warned them that if they engaged in any unlawful activities, they will be on their own," Randu Nzai Ruwa, the MRC secretary, told Reuters.
(Reporting by Joseph Akwiri; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Duncan Miriri and Myra MacDonald)