Kenyan rivals seek to end bloodshed

Kenya’s political rivals tried to inject some momentum on Friday into slow-moving peace talks brokered by former United Nations head Kofi Annan, aimed at ending weeks of bloodshed.

Four people were killed overnight in tribal violence in the Kisii region of Nyanza province in western Kenya, two of whom were “hacked to death”, police said.

Negotiations led by Annan entered a crucial stage this week, with the government and the opposition tackling head-on their dispute over the December presidential elections.

East African foreign ministers called for an end to the violence—which has killed more than 1 000 people since the election—and threw their support behind Annan’s mediation after meeting with the sides in Nairobi.

“We cannot afford [to see] Kenya continue the way it has been immediately after the general elections were concluded and the post-election dispute. This must be reversed,” said Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin on behalf of the foreign ministers.

The conflict in Kenya has caused disruption in many landlocked neighbouring countries who receive fuel and other supplies through its transport routes.

Once-stable Kenya plunged into violence after elections on December 27 that President Mwai Kibaki officially won but that the opposition claims were rigged. International observers have cited serious flaws during vote-counting.

More than 1 000 people have died in rioting, police raids and clashes between rival tribes.
About 300 000 people have also been displaced in one of Kenya’s worst crises since independence in 1963.

UN emergency relief coordinator John Holmes arrived in Nairobi on Friday for a three-day mission to assess the humanitarian crisis and was due to travel to the Rift Valley, the epicentre of the violence.

Holmes stressed that a political solution was needed to end the bloodletting.

“The political problem needs negotiation and mediation,” he said. “What we’re looking for here is to keep the pressure on all sides to have a successful mediation.”

European Union Development Commissioner Louis Michel on Thursday warned of unspecified consequences if the talks fail while the United States has moved to slap visa restrictions on eight Kenyans suspected of taking part in the violence.

Negotiators for Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga opened the talks with Annan on January 29, but the meetings have over the past few days zeroed in on proposals to end the political crisis.

“The topic is a crucial one, and proved divisive at times,” said a joint statement from the mediation on Thursday.

“But the talks proceeded in good spirit, moving more slowly than in previous sessions, but moving steadily ahead.”

Nearly 50 people have been killed in violence in western Kenya this week, some of whom were shot by police cracking down on gangs who have torched houses and other property.

Kenyan press reports said the two sides were examining a possible deal that would entail setting up a bipartisan interim government, with a mandate to enact electoral reforms and pave the way for new polls.

The turmoil has delivered a crippling blow to Kenya’s tourism industry, the top foreign currency earner, while tea production and agriculture have also been hard hit.

Safari resorts across Kenya and popular beach hotels in Mombasa have lost more than half of their business and the economy, which had been steaming ahead with 7% growth, is seen as headed for a slowdown.

Kibaki’s tribe, the Kikuyu, suffered heavily in the first wave of post-election violence at the hands of Odinga’s Luo tribe and other ethnic groups, but there have since been numerous revenge attacks.—AFP

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