Annan defuses row in Kenya crisis talks

Chief mediator Kofi Annan on Wednesday put Kenya’s crisis talks back on course toward a deal after defusing a row over his plan for a “grand coalition” government to end post-election turmoil.

Annan had irked negotiators for President Mwai Kibaki when he told Parliament on Tuesday that a power-sharing government could be a way out of the crisis sparked by the disputed December presidential election.

But in talks on Wednesday at a secret location, Annan clarified his statement, saying this “represents his perspective on the discussions and does not imply a formal agreement between the two parties”.

“The parties continue to work constructively and are making good progress,” said United Nations spokesperson Nasser Ega-Musa in a statement.

Kibaki’s lead negotiator, Martha Karua, had sent a protest letter to Annan after he told Parliament that a “grand coalition” could oversee reforms in Kenya to pave the way for elections in two years.

“My team is alarmed at some serious inaccurate statement made by your excellency [Kofi Annan],” said Karua, the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs.

Forming a transitional government to prepare elections “has not been discussed or agreed upon” in the mediation talks, now in their third week, she said.

The statement was in line with Kibaki’s long-held view that he won the presidential vote fairly and should not have to share power with his rival, Raila Odinga, who says he was robbed of the presidency.

Kenya descended into violence after Kibaki (76) was officially declared the winner of the December 27 presidential election that the opposition said was rigged. International observers also found flaws in the tallying of ballots.

According to the Kenyan Red Cross, more than 1 000 people have died in rioting, tribal clashes and police raids since the vote and 300 000 people have been displaced, shattering Kenya’s reputation as one of Africa’s most stable countries.

Annan had addressed Parliament to secure broad support for constitutional and statutory changes that a final settlement might require, but his “grand coalition” proposal angered a group of MPs from Kibaki’s party.

“Unfortunately, it appears that one of the parties may have misunderstood [Annan’s] remarks,” said the statement from the mediation team.

Crisis talks continued on Wednesday at a secret location, away from the media glare, as Annan sought to clinch a deal by the end of the week.

Political analyst Onweri Angima downplayed the strong reaction from Kibaki’s camp to Annan’s mooted power-sharing plan, saying it was “posturing” ahead of the final round.

“I am sure that they are very, very reluctant,” said Angima.

“But someone of Annan’s calibre would not make such a statement, which is so weighty, without having some indication that it is plausible,” said Angima, a programme director at the Centre for Multiparty Democracy in Nairobi.

Speculation about the agreement centred on a possible power-sharing government in which Odinga (62) could be named prime minister, a post that would have to be created by constitutional amendment.

Relative calm has taken hold across the country for the first time in weeks, with no incidents reported in western Kenya, which had been the worst hit by the violence.

“Things have come back to normal. The businesses are in full throttle, people are back to their farms.
But we still have a heavy presence of our officers in the area,” said police chief Anthony Kibuchi from western Nyanza province.

Kibuchi said community elders had recently organised meetings in villages, urging people to stop the violence.—AFP

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