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13 July 2024

Kenya crisis talks achieve breakthrough

By Agencies


Negotiators for Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga have achieved a "breakthrough" in their dispute over the December 27 election, local media and a source close to the talks said on Friday.


"Yes, it's a big one. Kofi Annan will come out soon and tell you all about it," the source said, referring to the former UN secretary-general and mediator who was meeting the two men.


Riots and ethnic attacks have killed more than 1,000 people and uprooted 300,000 since the December 27 polls, shattering Kenya's image as a stable business, tourism and transport hub.


Mutula Kilonzo, a member of the government's negotiating team, said earlier the talks were making good progress.


Annan, who is leading the attempts to bring the country's feuding parties together, said earlier the negotiations could not afford to fail – and Kilonzo agreed.


"We cannot afford our people using bows and arrows, people being pulled out of buses to be asked 'which language do you speak?' and then being chopped," Kilonzo said.


Negotiators had agreed on principles to end violence and help refugees, but had been wrestling with the issue of who won the election and what should happen next.


Foreign ministers from the regional IGAD bloc threw their weight behind Annan on Friday, rejecting opposition charges they were visiting Kenya to launch separate talks to undermine him.


Speaking on behalf of his colleagues, Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin said Annan had been called in by the African Union, and the whole continent recognised its authority. "Proliferation of initiatives have not helped anywhere" he said.


IGAD member nations have had bad experiences from numerous peace initiatives, he said, referring to Somalia, Sudan and the Ethiopia-Eritrea border conflict.


Kenya holds IGAD's rotating chairmanship and has built up goodwill in the bloc for its regional peace efforts.


In addition to hundreds of deaths, the turmoil in Kenya has uprooted 300,000 people, many living in squalid conditions and fearful of returning home.


To assess the situation, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Co-ordinator, John Holmes, flew in on Friday for a three-day trip and was due on Saturday to visit Rift Valley towns hit by tribal clashes.


Both sides have accused each other of rigging the December vote -- allegations that triggered unrest laying bare deep divisions over land, wealth and power that date from colonial rule and have since been stoked by politicians.


Annan told BBC radio before his talks with the two leaders on Friday that he was not ready to contemplate failure.


"I'm not ready to give up now ... We cannot afford to fail, he said, noting signs of compromise on both sides. (Reuters)