Tue, Feb 12, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Kenyans prepare for talks

DESPERATE Kenyans are hopeful that elder African statesman Kofi Annan will be able to mediate a breakthrough to end the violence in their country


Kenya's feuding politicians were girding themselves yesterday for tough discussions to hammer out a power-sharing deal that could end post-election chaos and haul the country out of a downward economic spiral, negotiators said.

"The talks from today on will be a hardball," said Mutula Kilonzo, one the negotiators on behalf of Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki.

"We are talking about the modalities of a political settlement, which can come in different forms. One of them is sharing government; another one is to reform the Constitution to create a strong opposition and a capable government," he said.

Opposition negotiators could not immediately be reached for comment.

Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga, who accuses Kibaki of stealing the Dec. 27 presidential election, have been under enormous international pressure to resolve the dispute after weeks of ethnic violence.

Many Kenyans waited expectantly for news of an agreement after former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, who is mediating the talks, said on Friday that the two sides had made significant progress toward striking a deal to share power.

But even during the weekend break in negotiations, political tensions flared up again.

On Saturday, Odinga told supporters that Kibaki "must step down or there must be a re-election -- in this I will not be compromised." Two days earlier, he had indicated he would not insist on Kibaki's resignation.

Odinga has regularly flipped back and forth between harsh rhetoric for Kibaki's administration and conciliatory gestures as the talks have dragged on. On Sunday, he said he was prepared for "giving and taking."

Odinga's supporters have applied their own pressure. In his stronghold in western Kenya, they have threatened to burn down his farm and a large molasses factory owned by his family if he returns as anything less than president.

The negotiations resume after UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes warned on Sunday that a vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of Kenyans displaced by post-election clashes will not be able to return home any time soon because of the fear of more violence.

Holmes urged a quick political compromise to allow the country to concentrate on healing its wounds.

"Clearly what we all hope is that people will be able to go home as soon as they can, but it's clear from talking to people, for many of them, for a vast majority of them it's not something that we can contemplate in the near future," Holmes told reporters in Kenya's capital after visiting several of the camps.

More than 1,000 people have been killed since the election. The fighting has pitted members of Kenya's rival ethnic groups against one another and gutted the economy.

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