* Internal security minister a vocal opponent of al Shabaab
* Also a presidential hopeful for elections due next March
* Cause of crash unknown, treated as accident for now (Rewrites throughout)
By Duncan Miriri and Thomas Mukoya
NAIROBI, June 10 (Reuters) - Kenya's internal security minister, who was
closely involved in the fight against Somali militant group al Shabaab, was
killed when the police helicopter he was travelling in crashed into a forest
George Saitoti, his deputy Orwa Ojode, two pilots and two bodyguards were
killed when the aircraft came down outside the capital Nairobi and burst
into flames, the government said.
A prospective candidate in next March's presidential election, Saitoti was
one of the most outspoken government politicians on the threat from Somali
militants, often visiting scenes of al Shabaab's attacks and vowing to crush
Kenya sent troops across the Somali border last October in pursuit of al
Shabaab, drawing a series of retaliatory grenade attacks on its soil,
killing several people.
Prime Minister Raila Odinga said investigations into the cause of the crash
had started and that the cabinet would hold a special session on the
"This is a terrible tragedy that has struck our country this morning. Nobody
knows exactly the cause of this accident. That is why experts will carry out
investigations," Odinga told reporters at the scene of the crash.
"We will do everything possible to ensure we find we find out the cause of
this accident, but for now it is just an accident."
Witnesses said they saw a helicopter swaying wildly in the air at about 8:30
a.m. (0530 GMT) in foggy weather.
"I heard an explosion and I rushed to the scene," said 25-year old Leonard
Njoroge whose house is a stone's throw away from the crash site.
"Others came and we tried to put out the fire using sand but it was too
fierce. It was too late for the passengers. We didn't know at the time it
was carrying prominent people."
Debris of the burnt-out helicopter were strewn in the forest in the Ngong
area just outside of Nairobi where government officials and curious locals
jostled to catch a glimpse.
Saitoti, who was a long-serving vice president under former President Daniel
Arap Moi, planned to run for president for President Mwai Kibaki's Party of
National Unity (PNU).
"He leaves behind a rich legacy of service to the country," Kibaki said in a
statement of condolence.
Other candidates in the presidential race, including Odinga and his deputy
Musalia Mudavadi, cancelled their campaign rallies.
The death of Saitot, a former mathematics professor who made a fortune in
real estate, came exactly four years after another cabinet minister and an
assistant minister were killed when a small plane they were travelling in
The death of Kipkalya Kones, minister for roads, and Lorna Laboso, an
assistant minister in the office of the vice president, prompted the
government to issue a directive against senior officials travelling in the
same aircraft. (Editing by James Macharia and Robin Pomeroy)
* Sanctions to range from travel bans to asset freezing
* Somalis to get new constitution, president
By Duncan Miriri
NAIROBI, June 10 (Reuters) - The United States will impose travel sanctions
and freeze assets of Somalis who hinder a political roadmap towards a new
constitution and president in the Horn-of-Africa nation, a senior State
Department official said on Sunday.
Somalia faces an August deadline to achieve both targets, which are a key
step towards restoring stability after more than two decades of turmoil
following the overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African affairs Johnnie Carson told a
news conference in the Kenyan capital that the sanctions would apply to
members of the Transitional Federal Government as well as to people outside
"The kind of action we must take against spoilers range from visa sanctions
to travel sanctions to asset freezes. There is a level of vulnerability for
all of those who might be spoilers," he said after a one-day visit to
During the trip, which was the first by a senior ranking U.S. official in
nearly two decades, Carson met President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, the prime
minister and the ministers of defence and foreign affairs.
He joined a growing chorus of optimism on the country, after African Union
forces (AMISOM) engaged in hard battles with the militant group al Shabaab
and were able to restore a measure of normality in the capital Mogadishu.
Asked if his visit was a precursor to Washington re-opening its embassy in
Mogadishu, Carson said the United States would continue to monitor the
progress being made before making a decision.
"When we believe that it is both appropriate and safe, we will consider
stationing officials there," he said.
A number of countries, including Turkey, have put up permanent or
semi-permanent diplomatic missions in the Somali capital over the last year.
Carson declined to comment on an offer of 10 camels by al Shabaab for
information on the whereabouts of President Barack Obama and of several
chickens for the same information on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton,
dismissing a reporter's question on it as "absurd".
Fuad Muhammad Khalaf of the Shabaab group made the offer after Friday
prayers, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors militant
organizations, mocking the millions of dollars the United States has offered
for leaders of the organisation.
C Thomson Reuters 2012 All rights reserved
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Received on Sun Jun 10 2012 - 15:52:57 EDT