Annan hopeful about Kenya peace talks

Kenya's political leaders on Friday agreed to negotiate a settlement to end weeks of bloodshed, with chief mediator Kofi Annan saying he hoped a deal could be reached early next week.


NAIROBI, Feb 8 (Reuters) - Kenya's feuding political parties
have made progress and may reach a breakthrough within days on
their major sticking point over a disputed Dec. 27 election,
former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Friday.

"I sincerely hope that we will conclude our work on item
three, the settlement of the political issues, by early next
week," said Annan, who is mediating the dispute.

"We are all agreed a political settlement is necessary with
a little patience and a bit of luck," he added, without giving
details on the progress made.

Riots and ethnic attacks have killed more than 1,000 people
and uprooted 300,000 since the Dec. 27 polls, shattering Kenya's
image as a stable business, tourism and transport hub.

Negotiators for President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader
Raila Odinga have already agreed on principles to stem violence
and help refugees, but had been stuck this week on the crucial
dispute over the tallying of the December ballot.

Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) says Kibaki
supporters rigged the vote, but Kibaki's Party of National Unity
(PNU) says the opposition cheated in its heartland and points to
the election board's announcement Kibaki had won.

Annan has given both sides until mid-February to resolve
that issue and then move on to tackle deeper underlying problems
like land and wealth inequality within a year.

He dismissed speculation in local media that the parties had
reached an agreement on sharing power in a government of
national unity. "Please don't pay much attention to the
speculations and the rumours," Annan said.

Officials on both sides of the political divide declined to
give details of the progress in negotiations, but said talks
were moving forward.

Kenya's election unrest has laid bare deep divisions over
land, wealth and power that date from colonial rule and have
since been stoked by politicians.

Annan said earlier the negotiations could not afford to
fail. Mutula Kilonzo, a member of the government's negotiating
team, agreed.

"We cannot afford our people using bows and arrows, people
being pulled out of buses to be asked 'which language do you
speak?' and then being chopped," Kilonzo said.

In addition to hundreds of deaths, the turmoil in Kenya has
uprooted 300,000 people, many living in squalid conditions and
fearful of returning home.

To assess the situation, the U.N. Under-Secretary-General
for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, John
Holmes, flew in on Friday for a three-day trip and was due on
Saturday to visit Rift Valley towns hit by tribal clashes.

Foreign ministers from the regional IGAD bloc threw their
weight behind Annan on Friday, rejecting opposition charges they
were visiting Kenya to launch separate talks to undermine him.

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