Kenya parties report progress in crisis talks

Negotiators for Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga said on Friday talks to resolve their dispute over Kibaki’s re-election had moved forward but not reached a final deal.

”I don’t think it’s really going to be a breakthrough, but rather an agreement of principles,” a senior government official said.

An opposition leader, William Ruto, said: ”There is positive news, but no final solution yet.”

Ruto denied earlier media speculation the two sides had agreed to share power in a government of national unity, saying: ”I don’t think so. That is not the case.”

Sources on both sides said they would not divulge details of the talks’ progress.

Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said on Friday that the feuding political parties had made progress and may reach a breakthrough within days on their major sticking point over the disputed election.

”I sincerely hope that we will conclude our work on item three, the settlement of the political issues, by early next week,” Annan told reporters.

”We are all agreed a political settlement is necessary with a little patience and a bit of luck.” He gave no details on the progress made.

He dismissed speculation in local media that the parties had reached an agreement on sharing power in a government of national unity. ”Please don’t pay much attention to the speculations and the rumours,” Annan said.

Riots and ethnic attacks have killed more than 1 000 people and uprooted 300 000 since the December 27 polls, shattering Kenya’s image as a stable business, tourism and transport hub.

Both sides have accused each other of rigging the December vote — allegations that triggered unrest laying bare deep divisions over land, wealth and power that date from colonial rule and have since been stoked by politicians.

Negotiators had agreed on principles to end violence and help refugees, but had been wrestling with the issue of who won the election and what should happen next.

Annan, who is leading the attempts to bring the country’s feuding parties together, said earlier the negotiations could not afford to fail.

Mutula Kilonzo, a member of the government’s negotiating team, agreed.

”We cannot afford our people using bows and arrows, people being pulled out of buses to be asked ‘Which language do you speak?’ and then being chopped,” Kilonzo said.

To assess the situation, the UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, flew in on Friday for a three-day trip and was due on Saturday to visit Rift Valley towns hit by tribal clashes.

Foreign ministers from the regional Igad bloc threw their weight behind Annan on Friday, rejecting opposition charges they were visiting Kenya to launch separate talks to undermine him.

Speaking on behalf of his colleagues, Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin said Annan had been called in by the African Union, and the whole continent recognised its authority.

”Proliferation of initiatives have not helped anywhere,” he said.

Kenya holds Igad’s rotating chair and has built up goodwill in the bloc for its regional peace efforts. — Reuters

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