News 2008


Kenya crisis talks move to secret retreat

12. February 2008

NAIROBI (AFP) - Negotiators from Kenya's feuding factions moved to a secret retreat on Tuesday for crunch talks on a deal aimed at pulling the country out of post-election turmoil that has left more than 1,000 dead.

Chief mediator Kofi Annan decided to take negotiators for President Mwai Kibaki and the opposition to an undisclosed location outside Nairobi, far removed from the media glare during the final days of tough bargaining.

Annan earlier addressed members of Kenya's divided parliament to secure support for an imminent political deal that could pave the way to a "grand coalition government" between Kibaki's party and the opposition led by Raila Odinga.

"Grand coalitions have served other nations well and these are often formed when a country is in crisis," Annan told the parliament session.

"They come together to try to work out the fundamental issues, make constitutional and other changes required and then eventually organise an election," he said.

Kenya descended into violence after Kibaki was officially declared the winner of the December 27 presidential election that the opposition said was rigged. International observers also found flaws in the tallying of ballots.

According to the Kenyan Red Cross, more than 1,000 people have died in rioting, clashes and police raids since the vote and 300,000 people have lost their homes, shattering Kenya's reputation as one of Africa's most stable countries.

Officials in neighbouring Uganda said Tuesday some 12,000 Kenyans had crossed the border and found refuge in camps scattered along the border.

Relative calm appeared to take hold across the country for the first time in weeks. No incidents have been reported in western Kenya, which had been the worst hit by the violence.

With hopes for a breakthrough on the rise, Annan's aides announced in a statement they were imposing a full "news blackout for the coming 48 to 72 hours."

An announcement on a breakthrough was expected by Friday.

Speculation about the agreement has centred on a possible power-sharing government in which Odinga, 62, could be named prime minister, a post that would have to be created by constitutional amendment.

A power-sharing deal would also provide for a raft of reforms to pave the way for fresh elections in two years.

Annan also told parliament that negotiators had agreed to set up an independent committee to probe "all aspects" of the vote that saw 76-year-old Kibaki return to power for a second five-year mandate.

"We need to understand and know what happened during the 2007 presidential election," he said.

The new parliament, which was elected in polls also held on December 27, is almost equally divided between Kibaki's party and its allies and opposition parties supporting Odinga.

But speaker Kenneth Marende said parliament was ready to help end the turmoil which has seen Kenyans hacked to death by machete-wielding mobs, burnt in churches where they had sought refuge and driven off their land.

"Let us roll up our sleeves and be ready to do whatever it takes to return this country to its glory," Marende told the session that began with a minute of silence to remember two opposition MPs gunned down in the post-election violence.

Lawmakers also heard an emotional plea from rights campaigner and co-mediator Graca Machel who said they now faced "a historical mission" to "redefine the common place, the common ground, where every Kenyan has a place of belonging."

"Kenya's pain is Africa's pain. Kenya's success is Africa's success," said Machel, the wife of South African anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela.