Kenyan rivals meet face-to-face
Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and the opposition leader, Raila Odinga, have met for the first time since last month’s disputed presidential election.The face-to-face talks in central Nairobi were mediated by former UN chief Kofi Annan, who has been holding separate meetings with the two men.
Weeks of violence followed the election results, rejected by Mr Odinga and described as flawed by observers.
Earlier, a rights group accused Mr Odinga’s party of ethnic violence.
“We have evidence that Orange Democratic Movement politicians and local leaders actively fomented some post-election violence,” said Human Rights Watch’s acting Africa director.
The ODM has denied previous charges of “ethnic cleansing” of Mr Kibaki’s Kikuyu ethnic group during the unrest which has left more than 650 people dead and driven 250,000 from their homes.
The meeting was hosted by Mr Annan at the president’s office at Harambee House in central Nairobi.
Afterwards, the rivals stood side-by-side outside, smiling and shaking hands.
Mr Odinga said his party was committed to peace, but stressed that it had to be sustainable.
Mr Kibaki also said he was committed to dialogue.
“We have taken the first vital steps in resolving electoral disputes,” Mr Odinga told reporters. “I ask everyone to be patient and uphold peace in a spirit of brotherhood.”
Mr Annan described the meeting as “a very encouraging development”.
“I think we have begun to take some first steps towards a peaceful solution of the problem, and as you can see, the two leaders are here to underline their engagement to dialogue and to work together for a just and sustainable peace,” he said.
The BBC’s Adam Mynott in the capital says the meeting was a breakthrough.
Several earlier attempts to get the rival leaders to hold face-to-face talks failed, with Mr Kibaki insisting on direct talks and Mr Odinga refusing to meet without a mediator.
At an earlier meeting with Mr Annan in Nairobi, Mr Kibaki told the former UN secretary general that he wanted to resolve the political crisis triggered by December’s disputed election.
On Wednesday, Mr Odinga called off a mass protest planned for Thursday in Nairobi after holding talks with Mr Annan.
Ethnic attacks ‘planned’
Earlier, Human Rights Watch accused ODM officials of helping to organise violence in the Rift Valley region in which hundreds of President Kibaki’s Kikuyu community were killed following the announcement of his election victory.
Their researchers spoke to member of the rival Kalenjin group, who said they were mobilised by their leaders to attack and loot Kikuyu-owned shops and businesses.
Local ODM officials and Kalenjin leaders “arranged frequent meetings following the election to organise, direct and facilitate the violence unleashed by gangs of local youth”, HRW said.
“Opposition leaders are right to challenge Kenya’s rigged presidential poll, but they can’t use it as an excuse for targeting ethnic groups,” said Georgette Gagnon, the group’s acting Africa director.
HRW warned that more attacks were being planned on the Eldoret areas of Langas and Munyaka, where many Kikuyu homes remain intact, and called on the opposition to take steps to prevent them.
An ODM spokesman, Salim Lone said it was easy for people to misunderstand second-hand stories about killings and said HRW should provide concrete evidence before jeopardising mediation efforts.
The HRW report came as at least 12 people were killed overnight in several incidents throughout the country, including eight people in the Rift Valley capital, Nakuru, according to the AFP news agency.