Annan says Kenya deal 'very close'

Former United Nations chief Kofi Annan said on Friday that a deal to end Kenya’s post-election turmoil was “very close” and voiced hope that the “last difficult and frightening step” would be taken next week.

Annan has been leading talks between negotiators for President Mwai Kibaki and the opposition to end weeks of violence since a disputed December 27 election in which more than 1 000 people have died.

“We are very close, we are moving steady,” Annan told a news conference.

“We are on the water’s edge and the last difficult and frightening step, as difficult as it is, will be taken.”

Talks are to resume on Monday when United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrives to deliver a US message to Kenya’s leaders that “there must be a full return to democracy”.

Annan said the rival parties had agreed to a broad reform agenda to review the Constitution, improve electoral laws and bolster human rights to “address the root causes of the crisis”.

But he suggested that disagreement over a power-sharing government was blocking a final deal, saying the teams had decided to consult their leaders on the “governance arrangement” before returning to the negotiating table next week.

Annan has been pushing for a power-sharing deal that would bring together the government and the opposition to oversee reforms and pave the way for fresh elections, possibly in two years.

He said he planned to meet Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga on Monday to “appeal to them to give instructions to their negotiators to really have the courage and make a deal”.

‘Return to democracy’

Kenya descended into crisis when Kibaki (76) was declared the winner of the vote, which Odinga (63) maintains was rigged. Independent observers also found flaws in the tallying of ballots.

During talks earlier this week, Kibaki’s camp balked at proposals for “power-sharing”, saying it would only appoint opposition members to a government under the strong executive leadership of the president, according to a top government official.

The opposition has pushed for the appointment of Odinga as prime minister with full powers as head of government, a post that would require changes to the Constitution.

The sides agreed to set up an independent review commission no later than March 15 that will investigate “all aspects” of the disputed elections and hand in a report in three to six months, said Annan.

The rival leaders have been under international pressure to make concessions, with the United States and Britain threatening visa bans, an assets freeze and other sanctions.

US President George Bush announced ahead of a five-nation Africa tour that he had asked Rice to travel to Kenya—which is not on his own itinerary—to deliver a strong message.

“There must be an immediate halt to violence, there must be justice for the victims of abuse, and there must be a full return to democracy,” Bush said.

Former colonial power Britain angered Kibaki’s camp when High Commissioner Adam Wood said London did not recognise the government “as presently constituted”.

At the request of the African Union, Annan—who arrived in Nairobi on January 22—launched a mediation to end the violence that saw Kenyans hacked to death by machete-wielding mobs, burned in churches where they had sought refuge and driven off their land.

The turmoil has laid bare tribal rivalries as well as simmering resentment over land issues and wealth disparities in Kenya.

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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