Annan calls for Kenya deal within days

Kofi Annan urged Kenya’s rival leaders on Monday to hold urgent talks outside the capital to find an end within 72 hours to the political crisis and unrest that has left more than 1 000 people dead.

“Kofi Annan today [Monday] invited the negotiating teams to resume discussions outside of Nairobi with the goal of reaching an agreement on the outstanding political issues in the next 48 to 72 hours,” a statement from the office of the former United Nations head said.

“During this period, he has asked for a complete news blackout. He has urged the parties not to discuss issues under negotiations with anyone outside the negotiating room. At an appropriate time, the dialogue secretariat will issue a statement to press to announce the outcome of these confidential talks.”

Annan was appointed as mediator by the African Union to try to broker an agreement to end weeks of spiralling violence since the disputed December 27 presidential election.

On Tuesday he was due to update Parliament on progress in the talks in an informal meeting, also behind closed doors.

Kenyans have been hoping for a breakthrough since Friday when Annan suggested the sides had climbed down from their hard-line positions and were ready to negotiate.

“On the threshold of a breakthrough” wrote the Standard daily in the headline of its Monday edition.
“There is every indication that the ongoing mediation of the Kenyan political crisis will produce some positive results in the near future,” wrote the East African weekly.

Annan on Monday met with negotiators for Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga in a Nairobi hotel as relative calm returned across the country for the first time in weeks.

Police reported no incidents overnight in western Kenya, which had been worst hit by the unrest triggered by the election.

In power since 2002, 76-year-old Kibaki was proclaimed the winner of the election that international observers said was flawed and the opposition claims was rigged.

Change of tune

“The situation in the country is calm,” said national police spokesperson Eric Kiraithe. “This is due to the change of tune from the politicians.”

According to the Kenyan Red Cross, more than 1 000 people have died in rioting, tribal clashes and police raids since the vote.

Returning from a three-day fact-finding mission to Kenya, UN emergency relief coordinator John Holmes said the number of displaced could be much higher than originally thought.

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

Annan’s nearly two-week-long mediation is seen as the best hope for an end to the turmoil that has seen Kenyans hacked to death by machete-wielding mobs, burnt in churches where they had sought refuge and driven off their land.

With hopes of a breakthrough running high, Annan urged Kenyans on the weekend to be patient as details of an agreement were being worked out.

“In negotiations, a deal is not a deal until it is done,” he cautioned.

Speculation about the agreement has centred on a possible power-sharing government in which opposition leader Odinga (62) could become prime minister, a post that currently does not exist under the Constitution.

Kenyan press reports have also said negotiations could yield a raft of reforms to election laws, the court system and the Constitution that would be enacted within a set timetable, possibly three years.

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

The violence has tapped into simmering resentment over land, poverty and the dominance of the Kikuyu in Kenyan politics and business since independence from Britain in 1963.

Kenya’s world-famous safari resorts and beach hotels have suffered a bruising loss of business while the country’s economic upswing, with growth at 7%, could soon flatten out.—AFP

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