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In the News
Last Updated: 02/04/2008
Kenya's Rift Valley burns despite talk of peace
David Lewis

Reuters

KERICHO, Kenya — Tribal gangs burned homes and tea plantations in Kenya's Rift Valley on Saturday, sending residents fleeing with all they could carry, despite an agreement between feuding politicians to end weeks of bloodshed.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan brokered a deal between Kenya's rival parties on Friday to take immediate steps to end post-election violence which has killed nearly 900 people and displaced more than a quarter of a million.

But the ethnic tensions in Kenya have taken on a momentum of their own, going beyond a standoff over President Mwai Kibaki's disputed Dec. 27 re-election, and despite the politicians' pledges, the violence continued.

Flames soared over slum dwellings belonging to members of Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe in the Rift Valley town of Kericho – around 250 km northwest of the capital Nairobi – where at least four people have died in fighting in recent days.

Residents dragged out mattresses, cupboards, suitcases and pots and pans, piling them onto carts.

"Let Annan do his bit but there's going to be no resolution. The clashes will continue," said one youth who gave his name as Lefty, manning a roadblock near Kericho where police opened fire to disperse protesters on Friday.

Gangs with machetes, bows and arrows, spears and clubs took to the streets of the small town of Sotik, some 40 km south-west of Kericho. Plumes of smoke rose from smouldering homesteads and patches of burning tea plantations around the town.

Despite MR. Annan's efforts, Mr. Kibaki and his rival Raila Odinga remain at loggerheads.

Mr. Kibaki told an African Union summit in Ethiopia on Friday that he had been elected by a majority of Kenyans and that the electoral dispute must be settled by Kenya's courts. He also blamed Mr. Odinga for the hundreds of deaths over the past month.

Mr. Odinga says he would not get a fair hearing in a Kenyan court and accused Mr. Kibaki of undermining the international mediation attempts by suggesting that only a local tribunal could resolve the dispute.

"The world should not be misled by Kibaki's antics and theatrics to say that he won elections. He knows he did not win these elections," Mr. Odinga said.

International observers have said the count was so chaotic it was impossible to tell who won.

The conflict, which has often pitted Mr. Kibaki's Kikuyu against other tribes supporting Mr. Odinga, has tarnished the image of a nation long seen as one of Africa's more stable and with one of the continent's most promising economies.

The dispute has taken the lid off decades-old divisions between tribal groupings over land, wealth and power, dating from British colonial rule and stoked by Kenyan politicians during 44 years of independence.

Near the town of Eldoret, north of Kericho, a mob surrounded the Great Harvest Evangelical Church, where at least two people were sheltering, and burned it to the ground on Saturday. A witness said those inside managed to escape unharmed.

"I don't know who it was, but they broke the gate and came in. The pastor's a Kikuyu, the plot belongs to a Kikuyu. Maybe that has something to do with it," said Peter Kaguru, charred beams and bricks smouldering behind him.

Clashes broke out west of Kericho late on Friday between gangs from the Kisii and Kalenjin tribes after the shooting in Eldoret on Thursday of opposition legislator David Kimutai Too, a Kalenjin killed by a Kisii traffic policeman.

Police called it a crime of passion but the opposition said it was a political assassination. He was the second opposition deputy killed this week.

The killing also sparked protests in the pro-opposition western town of Kisumu, where a 12-year old orphan, Godfrey Opiyo, was shot in the head and killed on Friday while trying to flee clashes in a slum between youths and the security forces.

Pressure on the two sides to reach a deal is intense, both from within Kenya and from the international community.

"Both parties now face a historic responsibility: choose dialogue or bear responsibility for a political and human catastrophe," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said.

 

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