Annan hopes for Kenya deal next week

Kenya’s political leaders on Friday agreed to negotiate a settlement to end weeks of bloodshed, with chief mediator Kofi Annan saying he hoped a deal could be reached early next week.

After negotiations failed to yield a breakthrough, Annan met with President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga, who have been locked in a dispute over the December presidential elections.

“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.

“I hope, next week, we will have firm news for you,” he said.

Negotiations led by the former United Nations secretary general entered a crucial stage this week, with the government and the opposition tackling head-on their dispute over the presidential polls.

The government on Friday lifted a ban on public rallies, saying security had improved, but the Internal Security Ministry said politicians must use demonstrations to “promote peace and national reconciliation”.

More than 1 000 people have died in rioting, police raids and clashes between rival tribes since the election, which the opposition claims was rigged.

International observers have also cited flaws in the tallying.

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.

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

“I think everyone realises that we have a serious problem in the country,” Annan said. “We also accept that we have to find a way of uniting and reconciling the nation.

“We are all agreed that a political settlement is needed, that a political settlement is necessary and we are working out the details of such a settlement,” Annan said.

Upheaval

For weeks the government had maintained a hard line, arguing that if the opposition wanted to challenge the results of the December 27 ballot, it would have to do so through the courts.

The opposition had rejected a legal challenge, saying the courts were not independent and called on Kibaki to step down, refusing to recognise his legitimacy.

In talks with Kibaki and Odinga, Annan said he “appealed to them to support their negotiators and give them instructions to cooperate and to settle”.

Launched on January 29, Annan’s mission is seen as Kenya’s best hope for resolving one of its worst crises since independence in 1963.

The violence has forced about 300 000 people to flee their homes, with relief groups saying the upheaval could affect food security and the healthcare system.

“In hospitals or clinics, the staff have been victims of violence and they have trouble getting into work,” said Filipe Ribeiro, the emergency aid coordinator in Kenya for Médecins Sans Frontières.

“The indirect consequence of the violence is that a child suffering from cerebral malaria cannot be treated because there are no nurses in the hospital,” Ribeiro said.

UN emergency relief coordinator John Holmes began a three-day mission to assess the humanitarian crisis and was due to travel over the weekend to the Rift Valley, the epicentre of the violence.

The conflict has caused disruption in several landlocked neighbouring countries, which receive fuel and other supplies through Kenya’s transport routes.

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.—AFP

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