US envoy: Violence is "ethnic cleansing"

January 30, 2008 7:55:39 AM PST
A U.S. envoy said Wednesday that the violence in Kenya's Rift Valley was "clear ethnic cleansing," aimed at chasing out President Mwai Kibaki's Kikuyu people amid the turmoil over the recent disputed presidential election.Jendayi Frazer, the leading U.S. diplomat for Africa, also said the United States is reviewing all its aid to Kenya, expected to amount to more than $540 million this year.

Frazer, speaking to reporters on the sidelines of an African Union summit, said she did not consider the eruption of ethnic clashes that has characterized the violence in Kenya a genocide.

The violence she saw during a visit earlier this month to the country's western region, where the fighting has pitted Kalenjin people against Kikuyu, "was clear ethnic cleansing," Frazer said. "The aim originally was not to kill, it was to cleanse, it was to push them out of the region," she said. "It is clear ethnic cleansing in the Rift Valley."

Since the Dec. 27 election more than 800 people have been killed.

Kikuyus were the major victims of the first explosion of violence after the announcement that Kibaki had won, which the international community and election monitors agree was rigged. Hundreds of Kikuyus have been killed, and members of the group account for more than half of the 255,000 chased from their homes, most in the Rift Valley.

The valley is the traditional home of the Kalenjin and Masai. British colonizers seized large tracts of land to cultivate fertile farms there. When much of that land was redistributed after independence in 1963, President Jomo Kenyatta flooded it with his Kikuyu people, instead of returning it to the Kalenjin and Masai.

Kikuyus, who are Kenya's largest ethnic group, are also resented for their domination of politics and the economy.

Frazer said neither Kibaki nor opposition leader Raila Odinga, who says he won the election, have done enough to halt the violence. In fact, she said, speeches made by both had proved counterproductive.

"I think both sides have spent quite a lot of time, and unhelpful time, in the public," she said.

Frazer said the United States was reviewing all its aid to Kenya, even though most goes to the people not to the government. She acknowledged that most U.S. funds in Kenya are used to fight AIDS and malaria and go to non-governmental organizations.

"It will be a counterproductive of us to stop the HIV aid support when the population is in crisis," she said.

Nevertheless, "we are in a process where we are looking at all of our aid to Kenya," Frazer said, reiterating that the U.S. is "putting on the table all of our activities in Kenya to review."

The United States previously had said it would not threaten deep aid cuts.

The European Union and other countries, including Canada, have already warned that they will cut aid if the rival sides do not make progress in resolving the crisis.

Australia added to the pressure Wednesday, with Foreign Minister Stephen Smith saying his country would restrict diplomatic activities with the Kenyan government and continue to review its aid program, which amounted to $6.4 million in 2006-07.

"In this current situation, it cannot be business-as-usual between Kenya's leaders and the international community," Smith said.

Kibaki's government has said it will not be blackmailed over foreign aid and can survive without it. Foreign aid accounts for only 6 percent of the country's budget.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)