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Talks stalled, Kofi Annan to step in

Latest update : 2008-01-28

Kenya's opposition claimed President Mwai Kibaki has refused to sign up for African Union-sponsored talks. Fresh negotiations mediated by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan are expected soon. (Story: A. Yeoh)

African Union-led crisis talks on Kenya failed Thursday but mediators said President Mwai Kibaki and the opposition had agreed to work with former UN chief Kofi Annan to end unrest that has left hundreds dead.

AU chief and Ghanaian President John Kufuor left Nairobi with little to show for two days of talks aimed at resolving a bitter standoff between Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga over disputed presidential elections.

He did say, however, that both men had agreed to work with an Annan-led panel "towards resolving their differences and all other outstanding issues".

The United States, which has been heavily involved in diplomatic efforts to end the deadlock, applauded the idea, but there was immediate confusion over what Annan's role would be.

A Kenyan government spokesman said that while Kibaki welcomed "anybody who is going to facilitate dialogue" with Odinga, he was not interested in a mediated settlement.

"Our position is that we have no crisis to have mediators here," spokesman Alfred Mutua told AFP.

Kibaki has repeatedly rejected the idea of outside mediation in favour of face-to-face talks with Odinga.

Odinga, who says Kibaki robbed him of the presidency by rigging the December 27 polls, has refused to sit down one-on-one unless the president acknowledges he cheated and steps down.

"Both sides did not let go of their positions," a Kenyan foreign ministry official said of the outcome of Kufuor's mission, while Odinga's spokesman Salim Lone said the negotiations had been "very intense" and blamed the Kibaki camp for their failure.

Before he left, Kufuor highlighted the fact the two sides had at least "agreed to an end to violence".

The nationwide unrest sparked by Kibaki's re-election victory has left some 600 people dead and around 250,000 more displaced.

In Washington, US State Department spokesman Tom Casey welcomed the idea of Kofi Annan being brought into the diplomatic mix.

"What that shows is part of a broader international effort to again try and promote a political compromise and a settlement to differences between the parties," Casey said.

Also Thursday, Kibaki swore in 17 ministers as part of a partial cabinet he had announced earlier in the week to stiff criticism both at home and abroad.

"We have one country and we should be committed to serving all Kenyans diligently," Kibaki said during the swearing-in ceremony, according to a statement from his office.

The remaining ministerial posts will be filled in at a later date, it said.

None of the cabinet positions so far have been given to members of Odinga's party, although Kibaki has vowed to create a "broad-based" government.

While the level of violence has receded, tensions remain high and riot police Thursday fired tear gas to disperse more than 100 female opposition supporters marching towards a Nairobi church to hold prayers for peace.

"They had not notified police about the demonstration. We asked them to disperse peacefully, which they refused and we were forced to fire tear gas," said police commander David Kerini.

Police said late Wednesday that stability had returned to most parts of the country, but isolated clashes were still being reported.

Kibaki and Odinga belong to different tribes and the post-election violence had taken on a specifically ethnic dimension.

The crisis has damaged Kenya's reputation as a relative safe haven in an unstable region of Africa, and hurt economic sectors including tourism and tea.

What is happening in Kenya "is very sad," Kufuor said before he left. "It's a beautiful country, it's a great country."

Date created : 2008-01-11