News 2008

 

Kenyan rivals hunker down in secret for crisis talks



Wed 13 Feb 2008, 13:06 GMT

By C. Bryson Hull



NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya's political rivals sought a deal to end an election crisis at a luxury safari lodge on Wednesday, while mediator Kofi Annan tried to soothe government fury over a proposal for new elections.

The former U.N. chief has imposed a news blackout, but the talks are widely expected to result in some kind of power-sharing deal between the government and the opposition after the disputed election of Dec. 27.

The two negotiating teams have been spirited away to what sources on both sides said was a lodge inside Tsavo West National Park in southeastern Kenya.

The teams arrived on Tuesday night, after Annan briefed Kenya's parliament on developments in the talks and said he expected a deal within the week on the immediate political crisis, which grew out of Kenya's closest-ever election.

But he angered the government side and on Tuesday its chief negotiator, Justice Minister Martha Karua, accused him of wrongly saying the teams had agreed on a transitional government for two years before a new presidential vote.

Karua, one of President Mwai Kibaki's most aggressive defenders, demanded a clarification of remarks he made in a private session with legislators.

"It appears that one of the parties may have misunderstood remarks made during the question and answer period in reference to the possible 'grand coalition' which could oversee reforms within two years, followed by presidential elections," Annan's office said in a statement.

Annan said that was "his perspective on the discussions, and does not imply a formal agreement between the two parties," the statement said. The dispute had been resolved in the morning discussions, it said.

The Ghanaian diplomat is trying to end a crisis over Kibaki's disputed re-election, which threw the east African nation into spasms of violence and damaged its image as one of the continent's most stable and prosperous countries.

At least 1,000 people were killed and 300,000 displaced in bouts of police action and ethnic killings, which laid bare rifts over land, power and wealth that have existed since the British colonial era and been exacerbated by post-independence politicians.

OLD FIGHT UNRESOLVED

The Annan-led talks are supposed to address those longer-standing issues in the next year, but an immediate political solution is expected any day now.

Both sides say that will take the form of a power-sharing deal, but its specifics are far from clear. Government officials have said they will only share power in the form of cabinet appointments to be made by Kibaki himself.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband in a statement urged "Kenya's leaders to turn crisis into opportunity and establish the basis for a lasting solution".

Kibaki's government has been cool to outside negotiations from the start, arguing that Kenya's institutions can deal with an election dispute. They accuse opposition leader Raila Odinga of ignoring those laws in favour of street protests.

Odinga says Kibaki stole the election and that outside help was required because the electoral commission and courts are biased. He now appears to have relented on a demand that Kibaki step down and a new election be called.

Both sides agree on the need for constitutional, legal and electoral reforms as part of any solution.

But that is an old battle still unresolved, despite a 2005 constitutional referendum in which Odinga led his Orange Democratic Movement coalition to defeat a Kibaki-backed redrafting of the document.

 

 

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