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Kenya talks focus on easing violence

The country's two political rivals agreed to help ease distribution of humanitarian aid, but not to a power-sharing government.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer, Rob CrillyCorrespondent / February 8, 2008

Peace effort: In Nairobi, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan (l.) met with government and opposition leaders.

Zohra Bensemra/Reuters

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa; AND NAIROBI, Kenya

Since his arrival in Kenya on Jan. 22, former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has deftly given the impression of steady success in mediating between Kenya's two main rivals, President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga.

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But in talks this week, President Kibaki's Party of National Unity (PNU) apparently rejected a transitional government that would share power with Mr. Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), according to an ODM source with knowledge of the ongoing discussions.

Few details of the talks have emerged. The emphasis still appears to be on preventing the violence and breaking the leaders away from their intransigence, rather than the makeup of any kind of power-sharing government. Kibaki still claims he won the disputed Dec. 27 vote, while Odinga maintains that Kibaki stole the election at the last minute.

ODM negotiators are insisting that the disputed elections be re-run and a transitional government be set up in the meantime. Kibaki's team says that is a nonstarter. The only agreement so far is that the discredited Electoral Commission of Kenya be disbanded.

Last Friday, however, the two sides also agreed to end the violence and work together to ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid. But the agreement coincided with fresh clashes in the western Rift Valley following the murder of an opposition parliamentarian.

"Since then, in the past three or four days, things have calmed down," says Abbas Gullet, executive director of the Kenya Red Cross. "Whether that's down to the Annan talks or other factors it's difficult to say. What I can say is that there's huge, huge hope among Kenyan people that things are moving in the right direction and settling down."

But the western Rift Valley has seen a series of flare-ups since President Kibaki was sworn in for a controversial second term, and the toll continues to tick upwards; more than 1,000 have died and more than 300,000 were forced from their homes.

"Ever since Kofi Annan emerged with those two men for the handshake, everyone thought that a solution was possible," says Wafula Okumu, a Kenya expert at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, or Tshwane, as the South African capital city now calls itself. "Then I started hearing that because of the higher expectations, if these talks fail, the consequences will be more dire than" what we've seen before.

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