Annan brokers deal in Kenya

Kenya’s government and opposition struck an agreement on Friday to take immediate steps to try to end tribal bloodshed in a five-week-old political stand-off in which about 850 people have been killed.

Meanwhile, 27 people have been killed in fresh violence in western Kenya, police said on Saturday, bringing the toll in the past 24 hours to 37.

“Eight people were killed in Nyamira,” a police commander in western Nyanza province said, adding to eight others hacked to death or shot with poisoned arrows during fighting on Friday.

“Six others were killed in [nearby] Chepilat—two shot by police and four hacked to death. Three others were hacked to death in Manga [also close by],” he said.

Friday’s agreement was brokered by former United Nations head Kofi Annan, leading an African mediation mission to resolve the stand-off that began when a December 27 poll returned President Mwai Kibaki to power. Opposition leader Raila Odinga says the vote was rigged.

Annan said the two sides will discuss how to stop the violence, delivery of humanitarian aid and how to end the political impasse before tackling a longer-term solution in Kenya, East Africa’s biggest economy and a popular tourist spot.

“The first [agenda item] is to take immediate action to stop the violence,” Annan told a news conference, adding that both sides will start negotiations from Monday.
“But more importantly, the parties agreed that the first three items [on the agenda] could be handled and resolved within 7 to 15 days.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon flew into Nairobi on Friday from an African Union summit in Addis Ababa to add his heavyweight diplomatic clout to his predecessor’s efforts.

“The killing must stop,” said Ban, echoing the alarm expressed by world leaders at seeing Kenya, long viewed as a peacemaker on a volatile continent, plunge into turmoil. Kenya is a key ally of the West in its efforts to counter al-Qaeda.

“You have lost already too much in terms of national image, economic interest,” said Ban.

Senior opposition official Musalia Mudavadi said the two sides agreed to urge supporters to end the violence. “We are calling on the public to disband any illegal militia,” he said.

Justice Minister Martha Karua agreed and said steps will be taken to protect life and property.

Violence was reported in flashpoints in western Kenya on Friday. “I saw around 20 torched houses ... and two policemen with arrow wounds. At least 10 people have died from both sides,” said a local journalist, who declined to be named.

More than 300 000 Kenyans are living as refugees because the violence has forced them to flee their homes.

Genocide accusations

Both sides have traded accusations of genocide in the fighting, which has often pitted Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe—long dominant in political and business life in East Africa’s biggest economy—and Odinga’s Luo tribe against each other.

The unrest has taken the lid off decades-old divisions between tribal groupings over land, wealth and power, dating from British colonial rule and stoked by Kenyan politicians during 44 years of independence.

Kibaki says he is Kenya’s elected leader, but international observers said the count was so chaotic it was impossible to tell who won.

Earlier on Friday, before the Annan-brokered agreement, Kibaki took an uncompromising line over the turmoil in his country and diplomats said Africa was divided over the stand-off.

Speakers on the first day of the AU summit on Thursday called for urgent action to stop the violence, stepping up pressure on Kibaki and Odinga to find a negotiated solution.

But in two speeches on Friday, to the summit and to a separate meeting of the East African regional grouping the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, Kibaki repeatedly attacked the opposition and stuck to positions already rejected by Odinga.

He said he had been elected by a majority of Kenyans, firmly put the blame for deaths on Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement and added the dispute must be settled by Kenya’s courts.

Odinga rejects a solution through the courts on grounds that they are stacked with Kibaki allies and would take years to issue a ruling.

The 53 member nations of the AU seemed divided over Kenya.

“There are divisions between one group who see themselves in Kibaki’s situation and another that has told him in no uncertain terms that this is not acceptable,” said one Western diplomat, adding that South Africa was in the latter group.

South Africa says Kenya’s crisis will be a disaster for the continent if not resolved quickly.

The United States and European countries have pledged their support for Annan’s mediation efforts. Donors have said aid programmes to Kenya are under review.

More violence

Meanwhile, local police commander Japheth Daido said two people had died overnight in Ainamoi, the home village of a slain opposition MP where a crowd of thousands went on the rampage on Friday. He said eight others had also died on Friday.

“Eight were killed in Ainamoi yesterday and two were killed overnight,” Daido said. The crowd killed a police officer on Friday.

Villagers armed with bows and arrows, spears and machetes went on the rampage to avenge the killing of David Kimutai Too, police said.

Police also shot dead a demonstrator in the western opposition stronghold of Kisumu on Friday.

Angry protesters set fire to dozens of houses in western Kenya on Friday after Too was shot dead by a police officer on Thursday in Eldoret. Another opposition MP, Melitus Mugabe Were, was shot dead on Tuesday in Nairobi, also sparking clashes.—Reuters, Sapa-AFP

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