/ 11 February 2008

UN: Up to 600 000 displaced in Kenya

The United Nations’s top emergency relief official said on Monday that as many as 600 000 people had been displaced following violence sparked by Kenya’s disputed elections.

”We estimate that 300 000 people were displaced and are now in camps of one sort or another,” John Holmes told reporters in Helsinki, Finland, adding: ”There are probably as many displaced who are not in camps.”

About 300 camps of different sizes have been erected across the country, said Holmes, who has just returned from a three-day fact-finding mission on the humanitarian situation in western Kenya.

The region was particularly badly hit by the violence unleashed after President Mwai Kibaki officially won the December 27 election.

The opposition claims the vote was rigged while international observers have cited flaws during vote-counting.

”We appealed two weeks ago for $42-million from the international donor community. The appeal is about 50% funded, so we have received about $21-million or $22-million,” Holmes said.

While the response had been generous, Holmes called on the international community to be more open-handed.

”People in camps, many have nowhere to go and will be in these camps for some time before they are able to go home and many of them are not sure they will be able to go home,” he said.

”We need to consolidate the camps. Three hundred is a very large amount to deal with,” he added.


Meanwhile, negotiators for President Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga re-started talks on Monday in a mood of national optimism that a political solution to Kenya’s worst crisis since independence may be near.

Mediator and former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan has predicted the two sides will agree on a formula this week to overcome their dispute over the December 27 election that triggered violence killing more than 1 000 people.

Kenyan media, and sources close to the talks, say that will almost certainly be a power-sharing deal.

Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement is no longer calling on Kibaki to step down, the sources say, while Kibaki’s Party of National Unity has dropped its demand the opposition take its grievances over the polls to court.

”On the threshold of a breakthrough,” read the Standard‘s banner headline, one of many predicting success in the talks.

At the Maasai Mara national park, rangers even named a newly born rhino ”Kofi Annan” in honour of his role.

Annan himself warned media against ”speculation and rumours” at this delicate stage in his negotiating mission.

Both sides also tried to calm premature jubilation around a nation exhausted by violence and acrimony, much of it along ethnic lines among Kenya’s more than 40 different groups.

Though triggered by the controversial presidential vote tally, the bloodshed in Kenya has exposed deep divisions over land, wealth and power that date back to British colonial rule and have been stoked by politicians in the decades since. — AFP, Reuters