/ 29 January 2008

Kenyan forces struggle to contain violence

Kenyan security forces struggled on Tuesday to contain escalating violence as the post-election unrest claimed its first victim among the country’s politicians.

Heavily armed Kenyan army soldiers patrolled the volatile Rift Valley capital, Nakuru, on Tuesday while paramilitary police guarded the town of Naivasha, the new epicentre of tribal fighting.

Police said almost 50 people have been killed in the past 24 hours, many hacked to death or shot by police trying to quell machete and arson attacks in the two flashpoint western towns, taking the overall toll since last month’s disputed re-election of President Mwai Kibaki to over 900.

More than a quarter of a million people have been displaced by the violence, which started as protests over the vote tallying — which local and foreign observers said was flawed — but latent ethnic tensions and economic and land disputes have since come to the boil.

The violence claimed the first life of a lawmaker or official on Monday when Mugabe Were, a member of Parliament from the Orange Democratic Movement of defeated presidential candidate Raila Odinga, was shot dead by gunmen outside his Nairobi home.

”It appears it is linked to post-election violence, but we are investigating,” a police commander, who asked not to be named, said.

The upsurge in violence, largely in the western Rift Valley province, has undermined the latest mediation efforts, led by former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan, to try to resolve the political deadlock since Kibaki’s disputed re-election.

In Washington, United States State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack said Kenyan leaders must work together to reach a political agreement to end the violence before it goes ”from bad to worse”.

The European Union warned it would cut aid to Kenya unless Kibaki and Odinga, who claims he was robbed of victory, showed they were seeking a solution to the crisis.

Commonwealth chief Don McKinnon said he was disturbed by the continuing post-election violence but said most members wanted to help Kenya out of its turmoil rather than suspend it from their club.

He admitted that ”clearly real problems” persisted despite Annan’s mediation efforts but said in an interview in Washington: ”No one who has been there so far has made any difference.”

Kenyan police have been heavily criticised by the public for failing to stop the upsurge in tribal violence in the Rift Valley.

Members of Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe suffered heavily in initial attacks from members of Odinga’s Luo tribe and other ethnic groups, but have since carried out numerous revenge attacks.

On the lakeside in Naivasha, where 14 Luos were burnt to death in an arson attack on the houses they had taken shelter in on Sunday, hundreds of Luos faced off with Kikuyus, armed with planks and sticks. Police ran the gauntlet in between.

”We want to remove the Luos from this place because they have removed us from Kisumu and Eldoret,” one young Kikuyu said.

”They’ve said ‘no Raila, no peace’, now we are saying ‘no Kibaki, no peace’.”

Thousands of residents were seen fleeing on main roads, clinging on to any possessions they could.

Finance Minister Amos Kimunya used a visit on Monday to Nairobi by Britain’s Minister for Africa, Lord Mark Malloch Brown, to claim that London had recognised Kibaki’s government.

London quickly disputed that contention, however.

”The United Kingdom’s view is that the results of the election are disputed, and that there needs to be now a process to resolve that and, as the Foreign Secretary [David Miliband] said, political power-sharing needs to move forward,” a foreign ministry spokesperson said. — AFP