The final push for peace in Kenya continued at a secret location on Wednesday as top negotiators said the opposition had proposed sharing power with the government for two years then holding new elections.
Progress at the talks has given a sense of hope to many Kenyans, who have seen more than 1,000 people die and some 600,000 flee their homes in the violence that has followed a flawed December 27 election. Much of the violence has pitted ethnic groups linked to particular politicians against each another.
Negotiators have talked to the media nearly every day – and, on at least one occasion, said a deal had been struck when it hadn’t. Trying to get them to focus on the task at hand, former United Nations chief Kofi Annan, who is mediating, declared a news blackout Tuesday and moved the talks to a secret location outside Nairobi, his office said in a statement.
Annan “urged the parties not to discuss issues under negotiations with anyone outside the negotiating room,” the statement said.
Negotiators’ cell phones couldn’t be reached on Wednesday – all apparently switched off or out of the coverage area.
Before heading into the sequestered talks, both sides offered a glimpse of what is on the table.
The opposition’s proposal includes “forming a broad-based government that lasts for two years,” said William Ruto, an opposition lawmaker. “We are going to agree on how are we going to work together in governance.”
Ruto said that during the two years of power sharing, the government should concentrate on reforming the constitution, fixing the electoral commission and coming up with a plan to rebuild parts of the country devastated by violence. He also suggested a truth and justice commission to look into land disputes that have contributed to the turmoil.
Government negotiator Mutula Kilonzo confirmed that the president’s party had received the proposal and would debate it “to see if we can reach an agreement.” He added in an interview with The Associated Press that the current constitution gives the president the power to appoint opposition members to his Cabinet.
However, the head of the government negotiating team said that reports that the opposition proposal was the major approach being discussed was inaccurate.
A two-year transitional government “has not been discussed or agreed upon,” Martha Karua said in a statement.
The opposition charges that President Mwai Kibaki stole the election. The government insists the vote was free and fair, despite heavy criticism from international and domestic observers.
The comments from both sides came as Annan urged Kenyan legislators to enact laws needed to resolve the political turmoil, such as land reform measures. “You will need to work together to implement this heavy agenda. Your active involvement across party lines is necessary,” he told a special session of Parliament.
Annan said the two parties had already agreed to form an independent commission to look into the electoral commission, which has faced heavy criticism for certifying Kibaki’s victory – even the commission’s chairman has said he was “unsure” who actually won the vote.
The strife has already gutted the country’s once-booming economy and left its reputation as a budding democracy in tatters.
The ethnic component to the violence, meanwhile, has polarised Kenyans like never before. In many parts, members of some tribes have been forced to flee their homes and many people are moving to their group’s historical homelands, even if they themselves had never lived there.
Ruto, the opposition negotiator, had said Friday that a power-sharing deal had been struck. Annan later called the announcement premature, although he said the two sides had made significant progress toward reaching an agreement.
Despite Ruto’s statement, it’s unclear where main opposition leader Raila Odinga, who says the presidency was stolen from him, stands on the issue. In the past week, he has backed off demands that Kibaki resign when speaking to reporters in English in Nairobi only to reiterate them while addressing supporters in Kiswahili, East Africa’s common tongue. And after that, he’s said he was prepared for “giving and taking.”
Odinga’s supporters have threatened to torch his farm and a large molasses factory owned by his family in western Kenya, the epicenter of much of the violence, if he settles for anything less than the presidency. (AP)
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