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Kenya demands UN removes Somali refugee camp

Kenya has previously accused Islamist militants of hiding out in Dadaab camp which it wants the UN to move.

FILE: A victim of the attack on a Kenyan university, arrives at the Kenyatta hospital, on 2 April, 2015 in Nairobi. Al-Shebab gunmen seized Christian hostages at a Kenya university near the border with Somalia. Picture: AFP.

NAIROBI - Kenya has given the United Nations three months to remove a camp housing more than half a million Somali refugees, as part of a get-tough response to the killing of 148 people by Somali gunmen at a Kenyan university.

Kenya has in the past accused Islamist militants of hiding out in Dadaab camp which it now wants the UN refugee agency UNHCR to move across the border to inside Somalia.

"We have asked the UNHCR to relocate the refugees in three months, failure to which we shall relocate them ourselves," Deputy President William Ruto said in a statement.

"The way America changed after 9/11 is the way Kenya will change after Garissa," he said, referring to the university that was attacked on 2 April.

UNHCR officials were not immediately available for comment.

Dadaab hosts more than 600,000 thousand Somali refugees, according to Ruto, in a remote, dry corner in northeast Kenya.

Ruto said Kenya had started building a 700km wall along the entire length of the border with Somalia to keep out members of the Somali Islamist militant group al-Shabaab.

"We must secure this country at whatever cost, even if we lose business with Somalia, so be it," he said.

On Tuesday, Kenya closed 13 informal money remittance firms, hawalas, to cut off funding to suspected radicals. Ruto said any business that collaborated with al-Shabaab would be shut down.

Al-Shabaab has killed more than 400 people on Kenyan soil in the last two years, including 67 during a siege at Nairobi's Westgate mall in 2013, damaging tourism and inward investment.

On Monday, the Kenyan air force launched air strikes against al-Shabaab targets in Somalia, a country where it has been militarily engaged against the Islamists for several years.

AFTER ATTACK AND BACKLASH, KENYA FACES BATTLE TO WIN OVER MUSLIMS

Days after the attack, Kenya's president held out an olive branch to Muslims and urged them to join Nairobi in the struggle against militant Islam by informing on sympathisers.

But as Uhuru Kenyatta launched a battle for Muslim hearts and minds, his security forces must first reckon with the deep mistrust among ethnic-Somali Muslims in the country's northeast regions bordering Somalia.

Kenyatta also faces an uphill task in reforming the violent ways of troops on the ground. A day before he spoke, a soldier in Garissa was seen by a Reuters reporter lashing at a crowd of Muslim women with a long stick.

"We live in fear," said Barey Bare, one of a dozen veiled Somali-Kenyan women targeted by the soldier.

"The military are a threat and al-Shabaab are a threat. We are in between."

Without the cooperation of local people like Bare, experts say Kenya will struggle to glean vital on-the-ground intelligence to stop crude but highly lethal assaults by the militants.

"Kenyans can't afford to build a wall with Somalia so intelligence from local sources is the best approach. But people in villages won't inform if Kenyan soldiers steal or hit women," said one Western diplomat.

Kenyan Defence Forces (KDF) spokesperson David Obonyo denied the troops had a track record of brutality against Muslims, who make up about 10 percent of Kenya's 44 million people.

"I don't see why we would harm our own citizens in Kenya. We are there to protect them," he said.

Analysts and diplomats say Kenya's top brass are now aware heavy-handed security tactics can cripple intelligence gathering.

Mass security sweeps also breed radicalisation and help al-Shabaab portray itself as the protector of Muslims in Kenya, Muslim groups say.

"In the upper echelons, especially in the intelligence department, there are constant warnings to police that these mass arrests are counterproductive," said Rashid Abdi, a Horn of Africa security analyst.

Though the group has lost swathes of territory and key sources of income in its native Somalia, it can still strike at soft targets in Kenya by using a handful of fighters with AK-47 rifles and grenades. Local knowledge also helps.

One of the four fighters who stormed the Garissa college was an ethnic-Somali whose father was a Kenyan government official, intensifying fears about home-grown jihadis. Five other Kenyans have been arrested since.

"Radicalisation has grown and become a national problem rather than a regional problem," said Ali Roba, the governor of Mandera, a region also targeted by militants.