UN concern at Kenyan humanitarian crisis

United Nations agencies have expressed increasing concern for the plight of up to 250 000 Kenyans displaced by post-election violence, as international diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis continued.

A statement from the UN released on Friday said an estimated 250 000 had been displaced by the unrest, with between 400 000 and 500 000 affected by the conflict.

The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that at least 100 000 people in the northern Rift Valley alone needed immediate help.

Many were stranded without food, water or shelter and other essentials, it said in a statement.

The UN Children’s Fund (Unicef) and the World Food Programme (WFP) were working with the Kenyan Red Cross Society to bring urgent supplies to those most vulnerable.

Local aid workers expressed fear at an outbreak of diseases in make-shift camps in schools, hospitals and churches, most of which were still out of reach owing to their inaccessibility or safety concerns.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon, meanwhile, held separate phone conversations with President Mwai Kibaki and main opposition leader Raila Odinga, his spokesperson, Michele Montas, told reporters.

“In both conversations, he discussed the return to calm and normalcy in Kenya and humanitarian needs [and] called upon the political leaders to resolve their issues through dialogue,” she said.

For the second day running on Friday, a massive police presence prevented opposition demonstrators, who are calling for a re-run of the presidential election, from gathering in Nairobi.

Clashes were reported in the port of Mombasa and the western city of Kisumu, Kenya’s second and third largest cities respectively.

The government dismissed as “blackmail” a call on Friday by Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement for a fresh vote within three months.

But spokesperson Alfred Mutua added: “If the court orders a re-run, it will be done, the president will accept a court order.”

Odinga has accused the judiciary of being loyal to Kibaki.

US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer arrived in Nairobi late on Friday and was expected to meet both Kibaki and Odinga to try to defuse the crisis.

The envoy was due to meet Odinga early on Saturday at the US ambassador residence in the capital.

She will hope to broker a solution where previous efforts failed, though South African Nobel Peace laureate Desmond Tutu emerged on Friday from talks with Kibaki optimistic about possible coalition rule.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband called on Kenya to let the head of the African Union, Ghanaian President John Kufuor, play a mediating role in the crisis, after Kufuor’s scheduled trip was cancelled.

‘Not in civil war’

Kibaki has so far resisted international offers to help mediate the conflict. Spokesperson Mutua told reporters: “Kenya is not in a civil war that would warrant a mediator.”

The European Union called “on both sides to avoid violence and start political dialogue”, said a spokesperson for its new Slovenian presidency.

Police in Nairobi maintained a tense calm on Friday after using water cannon and tear gas the day before to disperse Odinga supporters staging a rally designed to declare the fiery 62-year-old the “people’s president”.

But four bodies were recovered in the western town of Eldoret, bringing to 360 the total number of people killed in violence since polling day, according to a tally compiled by Agence France-Presse.

Police figures indicated that thousands of people have been wounded, hundreds arrested and property worth thousands of dollars destroyed.

The head of the Kenyan Red Cross warned the violence might still continue.

“So long as the political situation remains what it is, we’re not out of the woods,” Abbas Gullet said.

Kenyan Attorney General Amos Wako has called for a probe into the vote results, which the chairperson of the electoral board admitted were flawed.

Human Rights Watch added its voice to calls for an independent probe into Kenya’s presidential election, saying the country risked further violence unless it agreed to a fully transparent investigation.

“Mounting evidence of serious election fraud has helped to ignite violence throughout Kenya,” the panel’s deputy Africa director, Georgette Gagnon, said in a statement.

“An independent and transparent review of the vote tallying is urgently needed,” she added.

The crisis has forced the government to delay re-opening of public schools due January 7, saying students and teachers have been displaced. Some displaced people have camped in school buildings in the war-affected zones. — AFP

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