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Risk of serious violence in Kenya remains high as talks drag on, think tank says

Risk of serious violence in Kenya remains high as talks drag on, think tank says

Armed groups on opposite sides of Kenya's political and ethnic strife are mobilizing for new attacks and serious violence could erupt again if peace talks fail to resolve the postelection crisis, a think tank said Thursday.
"Calm has partly returned but the situation remains highly volatile," the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said in a report. "Armed groups are still mobilizing on both sides."
The Dec. 27 election, which foreign and local observers say was rigged, returned President Mwai Kibaki to power for a second five-year term after opposition leader Raila Odinga's lead evaporated overnight. The controversy has stirred up grievances over land and poverty that have bedeviled Kenya since independence in 1963.
More than 1,000 people have been killed in weeks of bloodshed, with much of the fighting pitting other ethnic groups against Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe, long resented for dominating politics and the economy.
Kenya's opposition on Wednesday threatened mass protests unless serious work to put power-sharing into the constitution starts within a week _ the latest sign the country remains delicately balanced on the edge of violence despite weeks of peace talks.
Officials with the opposition Orange Democratic Movement assured reporters that they were calling for "peaceful mass action." However, they have made similar pledges before previous political protests that degenerated into violent ethnic clashes.
Talks between Kibaki and Odinga have focused on how to create a government that will usher Kenya out of its bloody crisis. In particular, Odinga and his backers want the president to share power, possibly through the creation of a prime minister's position. So far, Kibaki has refused.
Meanwhile, the country remains caught between a desire to move on from waves of ethnic attacks and a fear that any compromise could spark new fighting.
On Wednesday, a bus full of people was attacked by rioters protesting arrests by police for rents gone unpaid during attacks that have left whole neighborhoods torched and sent landlords fleeing.
One of the rioters said they targeted the bus because they assumed the driver would be a member of Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe. Police said no deaths were reported, though a street remained blocked through late Wednesday by the burned-out shell of the bus.
Anyang Nyongo, the secretary-general of Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement, charged that the government is intentionally dragging out negotiations at the expense of a nation's hope for peace.
He called for parliament to convene within a week to enact constitutional changes to restructure the government in a way that will divest some of the power from the presidency.
"If that does not happen, ODM hereby gives notice that we call our supporters to mass action within one week," he said.
Kenya's information minister decried Nyongo's comment as incendiary.
"You cannot threaten mass action in a nation that requires peace. It is a contradiction," Samuel Poghisio said.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who is mediating the talks, appealed to both sides to "refrain from making public statements or using rhetoric that can complicate already delicate negotiations," spokesman Nasser Ega-Musa said.
Annan also wanted to assure the public that "the talks are going well," Ega-Musa said.
Though the two sides have been deadlocked on any proposal for power-sharing, they did agree last week to a host of secondary items, including the need for a long-delayed comprehensive constitutional reform.
Government negotiators have said that new constitution would be written within a year. Nyongo argued that work should start immediately, particularly on items concerning the power of the president.


Updated : 2021-10-17 07:50 GMT+08:00