Crisis talks begin amid slaughter
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Former U.N. chief Kofi Annan on Tuesday opened formal mediation talks to end Kenya’s post-election crisis, pulling together both sides to strike a political deal amid staunch violence which is threatening to spiral out of control.(Report: K. Spencer)
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Kenya crisis talks formally began Tuesday as the death toll from fresh clashes rose to 22, in tensions further aggravated by the slaying of an opposition lawmaker.
Amid the chaos, a mediating team led by Kofi Annan, which has been in Kenya for a week, launched formal dialogue in Nairobi between President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga for the first time since the widely-contested December 27 election.
“There is one Kenya. We all have multiple identities,” said Annan, sitting between Kibaki and Odinga for the opening session in Nairobi’s County Hall, in a session broadcast on live television.
Odinga earlier once again called for Kibaki to agree “that this election was stolen.”
Meanwhile, an eerie calm return to the western Rift Valley town of Naivasha after police helicopters earlier fired above fighting ethnic groups. Shops remained closed and few people ventured onto the streets.
Naivasha, and Nakuru further north — both tourist towns famed for their wildlife — saw scores killed in gruesome revenge attacks and police crackdowns in recent days, pushing the overall death toll since the widely-contested presidential poll to close to 1,000.
Members of Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe suffered heavily in the first wave of violence from members of Odinga’s Luo tribe and other ethnic groups including the Kalenjin and Luhya, but have since carried out numerous revenge attacks.
Thousands of Luos, driven from their homes by Kikuyus, sheltered in police buildings in Naivasha Tuesday.
Odinga earlier accused “our adversaries” of having a hand in the fatal shooting in Nairobi of a lawmaker from his party.
“We suspect a foul hand of our adversaries in this,” Odinga told a news conference. “The country is drifting into a state of anarchy.”
Kibaki condemned the killing “as a heinous crime” and ordered immediate investigations, a statement from his office said.
Police reported a total of 22 new deaths across the country, particularly in opposition strongholds in western Kenya and the capital’s slums.
“Three of them were killed in Western Province (Kakamega) and two in Nakuru slums,” a police commander told AFP of the latest deaths, adding that three others were killed in Naivasha — “one shot by police and two hacked to death.”
A looter in the western town of Kisumu was meanwhile stoned to death, he added.
In Cheptiret in western Kenya, police said they killed three men after they were attacked by around 50 armed with bows and arrows.
“The men attacked police forcing police to fire back, killing three of them while the rest fled,” said Rift Valley police commander Joseph Ashmalla.
And at least four died in clashes in Nairobi’s slums.
“Four people have been killed and we have reports that three others might have been hacked to death but we cannot access them,” a police commander told AFP.
Police fired tear gas as hundreds took to the streets in Odinga’s western stronghold of Kisumu after the fatal shooting of opposition MP Melitus Mugabe Were from Nairobi’s Embakasai constituency.
Were “was shot outside his house” by gunmen, a police commander, who asked not to be named, told AFP after the first killing of a lawmaker or government official since the clashes began.
Were had won his seat in parliamentary elections that also took place on December 27.
Police later teargassed the lawmaker’s house to disperse protesters outside, after hundreds spilled onto the streets on hearing of his death.
Meanwhile, thousands continued to flee their homes in western Kenya fearing ethnic reprisals, adding to more than a quarter of a million people already displaced in the first clashes set off by the election.
Political protests have since aroused latent ethnic, economic and land disputes, shattering the image and economy of the once-stable east African nation in some of the worst violence since independence in 1963.
Kenyan police have been heavily criticised by the public for failing to stem the upsurge in tribal violence in the fertile Rift Valley.
In neighbouring Rwanda, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the situation as “unacceptable” and said he would discuss it with African leaders meeting in Addis Ababa for an African Union summit from Thursday.