News 2008


Kenya Opposition Wants AU Peacekeepers


03. Feb. 2008

BONDO, Kenya (AP) Kenya's opposition leader on Sunday called for international peacekeepers to help restore calm in a country once considered one of the most stable on the continent, as weeks of violence linked to the disputed presidential election gathered frightening momentum.

In western Kenya, the epicenter of some of the worst bloodshed since the Dec. 27 vote, gangs with machetes and bows and arrows faced off and black smoke billowed from torched homes. More than 800 people have died and 300,000 have been forced from their homes since the election, which foreign and local observers say was rigged.

"The (African Union) should bring in peacekeepers because the violence in Kenya is appalling," Raila Odinga told The Associated Press during an interview at his villa-style home in this western Kenya village.

AU and government officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

The election returned President Mwai Kibaki to power for a second five-year term after Odinga's early lead evaporated overnight. The ensuing violence has degenerated into ethnic clashes over decades-old grudges about land and resources, with much of the anger aimed at Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe, long resented for their domination of politics and the economy.

On Sunday, gangs faced off in the western town of Sotik where several houses had been torched, according to a local reporter at the scene. A day earlier, young men from rival ethnic groups hunted each other through the streets of another western town, Eldoret, burning houses and blocking roads.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan brokered a deal between Kibaki and Odinga on Friday, laying out a plan to end the violence before moving onto the tougher political issues at the root of the fighting. Annan said it should take two weeks to deal with the immediate crisis and up to a year to solve the deeper problems.

But both sides were still talking tough. Kibaki accused his opponents of orchestrating the violence, and Odinga said Kenyans will not allow their votes to be stolen.

"Kenyans will continue to resist Kibaki because they didn't elect him," Odinga told the AP, in his family home, built on land that belonged to his great-grandfather, in a walled compound on a 150-acre farm.

"He has no choice but to step down because the world will judge him harshly," he said, sitting on a sofa in khaki safari shirt and shorts.

Later, he attended a service at the Anglican St. Michael's Parish Church in Bondo, where a packed congregation interrupted the bishop's sermon, demanding to hear their local hero.

"We want the heart of the nation," the 1,000-strong crowd chanted, in the brick building, which had a corrugated iron roof but no windows or doors.

Afterward, Odinga addressed the crowd from a wooden dais, saying in his tribal Luo language: "This is not a tribal war. You should know that even Kikuyus and Kisii voted for me."

He preached peace and urged people to refrain from attacking others, but said that the police also were to blame for violence.

"At the moment they are a source of insecurity. They are shooting people to kill. Therefore, we need some kind of foreign force to come and assist," he said, adding that the Kenyan army is not neutral.

"They are answerable to one person, the commander in chief ... (who is) Kibaki," he said. "That's why we want to have a neutral force; it can either be the AU or U.N., if the use of military is necessary."