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US Military-Run Medical Clinic in Kenya Deemed a Success - 2003-12-15

The American embassy in Nairobi says free medical services run by U.S. Marines near Kenya's east coast were successful, despite protests from some Muslims that the services were a pretext to pursuing terrorists.

Embassy spokesman Peter Claussen said the Marines received a tremendous response to their clinic last week in the northeastern Kenyan town of Garissa.

Mr. Claussen says the Marines, who are under the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa anti-terrorism operation, treated 1,700 people for a number of ailments including intestinal infections, malaria and skin rashes.

"There were some minor controversies, but those kinds of suspicions and those kinds of concerns are to be expected," he said. "We did what we could to try to ameliorate them. I think by and large it succeeded."

Kenyan media reported Sunday that at least 40 people were injured when hundreds of Muslims demonstrated Friday against the Marine presence in Garissa, saying the troops were really there to hunt down terrorists as part of the U.S. government's war on terror.

A spokesman at police headquarters, Kigori Mwangi, denies that anyone was injured in the demonstration and says only about 100 people were involved. He calls it a small incident.

"About nine boys were arrested and charged in court for creating disturbance," he said. "Otherwise, the program went on quite well. Nobody was injured, I am told by the officer in charge of that area."

A spokeswoman for the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims, Nazal Rajput, says the Garissa incident reflects deep frustrations that Muslims are experiencing in Kenya, and around the world, as they feel increasingly and unfairly targeted by the war on terror.

Ms. Rajput says the Marines should have worked more closely with the local Muslim community in setting up and carrying out the medical clinic.

"Right now, anything incoming directly from an NGO [non-governmental organization] which is non-Muslim or U.S. government directly, as in the Marines' case, will seem to be suspicious, it will be looked at in a suspicious manner," she said.

Ms. Rajput says it was a combination of Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki's recent trip to the U.S., an anti-terrorism bill being drafted in Kenya that many say unfairly targets Muslims, and rumors that the United States wants to set up a military base in Kenya that caused Muslims to be suspicious of the Marines' presence.

Mr. Claussen said he thinks the demonstrations were due to frustration over local politics and were not tied to national or international issues.