Mon, Jan 28, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Annan visits restive west Kenya

RIFT VALLEY The former UN chief said that 'gross and systematic' human rights abuses had taken place as violence stymied his efforts at mediation

AFP , NAIROBI

Furniture and other belongings fill the yard of a church where dozens of families fleeing violence are living in Nakuru, Kenya, on Saturday. Gunfire erupted in the town and young men vowed revenge as the death toll from two days of bloodshed in western Kenya's main town reached at least 25, including 16 charred bodies that were unloaded at the local morgue from the back of a truck.

PHOTO: AP

Kofi Annan was to push yesterday for peace and talks in Kenya as mediation efforts hit further hurdles after a death tolls from ethnic clashes in the country's west rose to 81.

On Saturday, the former UN secretary-general said unrest sparked by Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki's disputed reelection had led to "gross and systematic" human rights abuses, after visiting the violence-wracked Rift Valley and calling for a probe.

As bodies covered in arrow and machete wounds filled up morgues and hospitals in the provincial capital Nakuru, police said 45 people had been killed, taking the death toll since Thursday to 81.

At least 850 people have been killed in all, police and hospital figures show, and some 260,000 have been displaced across the country since the disputed Dec. 27 election touched off a wave of deadly rioting and ethnic killings.

UNEASY CALM

An uneasy calm held in the lakeside town of Nakuru early yesterday, after three days of pitched battles between members of Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe and members of the Luo and Kalenjin ethnic groups -- supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga, who claims he was robbed of the presidency.

Bodies still lay in the city's nearly deserted slums, scene of the worst clashes by fighters armed with machetes, spears and bows and arrows and where many houses were burnt down or abandoned.

"We saw gross and systematic human rights abuses of fellow citizens," Annan said in Nairobi on Saturday after returning from nearby Rift Valley Province which, along with the capital's slums, has seen some of the most serious incidents of Kenya's post-election violence.

"Impunity cannot be allowed to stand," said Annan, accompanied by former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa and Graca Machel, wife of former South African president Nelson Mandela.

However, the latest effort to mediate the crisis sparked by the closely fought and widely contested presidential election, was undermined by the continuing violence.

NEWSPAPER RESPONSE

Kenyan newspapers reflected many people's frustration yesterday.

"For the umpteenth time we again ask President Kibaki and Orange Democratic Movement [party] leader Mr Raila Odinga to work for peace, truth and justice. They owe it to themselves, this generation and posterity," the Sunday Standard said in an editorial yesterday.

The mass circulation newspaper Sunday Nation lamented a surge in sexual violence both inside and outside camps for internally displaced people (IDP), where culprits walk away unpunished.

"In the first two days of the violence, 56 cases of rape were recorded in Nairobi alone," the paper said.

The Standard, quoting US historian Howard Zinn, said: "There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people ... Kenya has bled enough."

The crisis has damaged the economy and shattered the east African nation's image as a beacon of stability in the region and a traditional refuge for refugees from neighboring conflicts.

Annan, Mkapa and Machel on Saturday toured camps in western Kenya of displaced people who had fled fighting between supporters of Kibaki and Odinga in an area tense with latent land and ethnic disputes.

"Mr Annan appealed to politicians from all parties to visit the affected areas and camps of the displaced persons in order to see for themselves the damage which can be caused by reckless statements," said a statement from Kibaki's office after he met with Annan Saturday.

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