Rival Kenyan leaders meet

January 24, 2008 10:24:31 AM PST
Kenya's president and its main opposition leader met Thursday for the first time since the disputed Dec. 27 presidential vote, shaking hands and promising to work for peace after a spasm of postelection violence left hundreds dead.President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga met for about an hour with former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who succeeded where previous international mediators had failed in getting Kibaki and Odinga to sit down together.

The two rivals shook hands and promised to work for peace after a spasm of postelection violence left about 700 people dead. They then walked out of the downtown presidential offices side by side. But shortly after, Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement held a news conference and condemned Kibaki.

"Calling himself the duly elected president negates the whole rationale for international mediation," said Anyang Nyongo, secretary-general of ODM.

Earlier, both Kibaki and Odinga made statements to reporters as soon as they emerged from their meeting.

Kibaki made a point of saying he had been "duly elected" as president - an indicator that he did not consider his position as president negotiable.

"I will personally lead our country in promoting unity, tolerance, peace and harmony among Kenyans," he told journalists Odinga's statement sounded conciliatory.

"Today we have taken the first few steps in resolve the electoral dispute and conflict," he said. "I pledge to all Kenyans that my team and I will spare no effort to resolve this crisis."

Annan called the meeting and commitment to dialogue "a very encouraging development." But he noted that violence continued and innocent people were being attacked.

"I want to join my brothers in appealing for calm," he said, adding that there had been "excessive use of force by the police."

International allies, saying the vote tally was rigged, have been urging Kibaki and Odinga to negotiate a power-sharing agreement that might create a new position of prime minister for Odinga.

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni won an agreement from both sides to set up a judicial commission to investigate vote rigging. Museveni met with Kibaki and Odinga on Wednesday.

Annan won another concession Wednesday, persuading Odinga to call off protests planned Thursday in defiance of a government ban. Scores of Odinga's supporters have been gunned down by riot police in earlier demonstrations.

The Pan-African Parliament on Thursday published a report from its election monitors in Kenya saying the process did not meet democratic standards and concluding "an election rerun ... would be the most pragmatic and ideal solution."

The government says 685 people have been killed in riots and ethnic fighting since the vote. Some 255,000 people have been forced their homes by the violence.

While politics sparked the violence, much of it also has been ethnic, pitting other groups against Kibaki's Kikuyu people, long dominant in politics and the economy in Kenya.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said Thursday it has evidence that opposition party leaders "actively fomented," organized and directed ethnic attacks in Kenya's western Rift Valley, where some of the worst violence has been perpetrated in the aftermath of a disputed presidential election.

Wednesday in Limuru, about 15 miles outside Nairobi, police shot and killed two men in a machete-wielding mob that blocked a road and demanded to know the ethnicity of people trying to pass, a police source and a witness said.

Another two people were found dead Wednesday in the capital's slums, police said.

Aid workers reported scores of people were fleeing Molo, 100 miles northwest of Nairobi, in Kenya's western Rift Valley. Mobs in the Rift Valley earlier this week set dozens of homes ablaze and a man was burned to death in his car because he could not speak his attackers' language.

Kenya Red Cross Society said Thursday that violence was escalating in the Rift Valley and other parts of Kenya, threatening a serious humanitarian crisis. "There are fresh displacements reported," it said.

Human Rights Watch, citing interviews with numerous members of the Kalenjin people native to the area, said its investigations indicated that "opposition party officials and local elders planned and organized ethnic-based violence in the Rift Valley."

It said they "arranged frequent meetings following the election to organize, direct and facilitate the violence unleashed by gangs of local youth."

The human rights organization said the same sources confirmed plans were being made to attack camps of displaced Kikuyu. It called for police to protect displaced people.

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AP writers Elizabeth A. Kennedy, Tom Maliti, Tom Odula and Karel Prinsloo contributed to this report.


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