Thursday, February 07, 2008

United Nations Warns Kenyan Political Leaders to End Post-Election Violence

Rift over results widens as UN warns leaders

Story by NATION Reporter and Reuters
Publication Date: 2/8/2008

The UN Security Council Thursday told Kenyan leaders to immediately end the post-election violence as mediation talks in Nairobi turned stormy.

The council asked the leaders to end what it called “ethnically motivated attacks”, which have left over 1,000 people dead.

As the UN made the plea in New York, ODM and PNU parties to the talks refused to cede ground over how to resolve the disputed Presidential elections. In a second non-binding statement issued since the violence began over a month ago, the 15-nation council ordered Kenya to “immediately end violence, including ethnically motivated attacks, dismantle armed gangs, improve the humanitarian situation and restore human rights.”

At the talks mediated by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, the Government and ODM stuck to their positions over the disputed polls.

Mediation team

This prompted Mr Annan, whose mediation team includes former South African First Lady Graca Machel and former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, to ask both sides to compromise for a fast resolution.

The Security Council is one of the key UN decision-making bodies, grouping five permanent members — USA, France, Russia, China and United Kingdom — and 10 rotational posts distributed to every continent.

In its first official response to the unrest sparked by December’s disputed election, the council expressed concern at the “dire humanitarian situation”.

The council spoke even as the international community warned of stern measures against those who derail the Annan talks. European Union commissioner for development Louis Michel said the action would target both ODM and PNU leaders.

Addressing journalists after talks with President Kibaki, Mr Odinga and the Annan mediation team, Mr Michel said: “Those who will push Annan to fail will pay for the consequence.”

“There’s no room for parties who would not give Annan a chance to succeed,” Mr Michel said and expressed optimism that the mediation will succeed.

Nearly 350,000 Kenyans have been displaced in the five-week orgy of violence.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga has accused President Kibaki of rigging the presidential election. But Thursday he said ODM was no longer demanding to be given their alleged presidential victory.

“We won the elections, President Kibaki lost and therefore we wanted to be sworn in. That is not what we are saying now and have moved from that position to accept open-ended talks,” Mr Odinga added.

The UN statement gave strong backing to efforts by the Annan team to find a solution. “The council emphasises that the only solution to the crisis lies through dialogue, negotiation and compromise and strongly urges Kenya’s political leaders to foster reconciliation,” it said.

It asked President Kibaki and Mr Odinga to meet “their responsibility to engage fully in finding a sustainable political solution and taking action to immediately end violence”.

Gangs must be disarmed, human rights restored and the humanitarian situation improved, it said.

“Recalling the need to avoid impunity, the council calls for those responsible for violence to be brought to justice,” the statement added.

A UN fact-finding mission arrived in Kenya on Wednesday to collate information on suspected human rights abuses.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louis Arbour, said: “Truth and accountability are of critical importance in putting an end to the violence and preventing future human rights violations.”

The council statement, much more strongly worded than last week’s, also expressed “strong concern at the continuing dire humanitarian situation in Kenya and (called) for the protection of refugees and internally displaced persons.”

An earlier version of the statement drafted by France and Britain said the council “regrets the abuses in the presidential election noted by international and domestic observers.” But this was removed due to Russian objections, diplomats said.

The statement did not say what steps the council might take if the violence continues.

The Government and ODM were told to relax their tough positions for speedy conclusion and success of ongoing talks to end political turmoil in the country.

Mr Annan, who is heading the talks, read the notice after the talks seemed to be headed nowhere with the two warring sides sticking to their positions.

Sources at Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation, which is going on at Nairobi’s Serena Hotel, said the Government and ODM representatives had spent the better part of Thursday defending and justifying their positions.

The talks turned stormy with the Government and ODM sides declining to cede any grounds.

The heated exchanges reflecting deep divisions between the two sides threw into disarray the possibility of the committee meeting its target on time.

There were different versions as to the reason why the ODM delegation of Musalia Mudavadi, William Ruto, James Orengo and Sally Kosgei left the meeting at 4.45pm while the Government side remained behind for almost 30 minutes.

When they came out of the meeting room, the Government side made up of Cabinet ministers Martha Karua, Sam Ongeri, Moses Wetang’ula and Mbooni MP Mutula Kilonzo said that they were meeting in their office at the Serena after the adjournment of the afternoon session.

Said Mr Kilonzo: “We all have our offices here. The Government has its own and ODM have their own and we have been holding our own small meeting there. Do no listen to propaganda that this or that group has walked out. I have yet to meet a team from ODM that would make Mutula Kilonzo want to walk out.”

Ms Karua the talks were progressing well and assured the public that a solution to the political crisis was on the way.

But sources within ODM said they walked out after the Government side refused to cede any ground in their terms for a political solution. They said there was no need to go on with the afternoon session when it was clear their rivals were using legal reasons to block any possibility of reaching an agreement.

A statement that was issued later in the evening by chairman of the mediation team Mr Kofi Annan pointed to the differences that emerged in the meeting and the slow pace at which the talks were moving. It said: “The topic is a crucial one, and proved divisive at times, but the talks proceeded in a good spirit, moving more slowly than in previous sessions but moving steadily ahead.”

The former UN secretary-general’s statement was referring to the third item on his agenda of a political solution to the crisis, namely, how to overcome the disputed Presidential elections.

The two sides had started debating the issues that they raised in their presentations to the mediation team. The Government proposed a raft of Constitutional, legal and institutional reforms that would result in the establishment of a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission as an end to the crisis.

On their part, ODM put on the table a re-run of the Presidential elections and formation of a transitional government made up of members of the two sides to prepare for fresh elections in six months.

During that period, they proposed, Constitutional, legal and electoral law reforms should be carried out to pave way for fair and free polls.

Thursday’s session became stormy when ODM negotiators declared that President Kibaki was in office illegally because he lost the elections to their candidate, Mr Odinga. The only way out, they argued, was for Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga to be exposed to a new round of elections to give legitimacy to the seat of power.

However, the Government side argued that President Kibaki’s tenure in the office could only be proved illegitimate through re-tallying or recounting of the Presidential votes that were cast in the December 27 elections. This, they said, would enable the public to know the truth and bring to an end the claim that Mr Odinga won the elections.

The proposal was bitterly opposed by the ODM side, which who argued that the results had been greatly tampered with, original Form 16As had been shredded and replaced with a new set and that the current members of the Electoral Commission could not be trusted to be fair.

They declared that they were not ready to go to the courts to find a solution to the political crisis, and rooted for a political settlement.

The only two options, they said, were a re-run of the Presidential elections, which would yield a clear winner and convince protesting Kenyans to stop violence. The quickest way to end violence was to address the irregularities that occurred during vote-counting.

The second option was a transitional government of PNU and ODM members according to their strength in Parliament, with the two parties equally sharing executive authority.

But the PNU side opposed both options stating they were not provided for in the Constitution that had to be adhered to even in political crisis.

They claimed ODM refused to file a petition as required by the Constitution and that the transitional government they were proposing was not in the Constitution.

It was at this moment, sources said, that Mr Annan stepped in and urged the negotiators to consider the interest of the country.

He was understood to have said that the international community and the public were looking up to the committee to find a solution to the political crisis and end human suffering.

He was reported to have said that the two sides have to cede some of their demands in order to reach an agreement.

Left for a meeting

The ODM negotiators then left for a meeting with their leader, Mr Odinga, at Pentagon House while the Government side continued meeting room at their Serena Hotel office.

The talks resume Thursday.

Mr Annan, who is chairing the talks started work on January 29 and gave 15 days for addressing short-term issues that could return to peace and stability to the country.

On Thursday, the Government side complained about the travel bans and warned the Kibaki administration will not be intimidated.

Mr Wetang’ula, the Foreign Affairs minister, vowed to defend all people who would be affected by the travel bans stating that the ambassadors were acting out of order.

“As a government, we have a duty to defend the right of every citizen and any of my colleagues who has received a letter,” he said.

Ms Karua urged UK and Canada to act within the Paris principles on diplomatic relations. “We are telling those countries that whereas you reserve the right to deny us visas, you cannot lord it over us,” she said.

Mr Kilonzo said that the travel bans were intimidating members of the committee. He claimed ODM was working with some foreign countries to frustrate government activities through the ban.

On Wednesday, the US said 10 MPs and businessmen faced imminent travel ban to the country for being behind the violence that has left more than 1000 people dead and 300,000 displaced. The ban issue is said to have taken centre stage at the talks.

Meanwhile, President Kibaki has directed the International Conference on Great Lakes region to form a committee of ministers to assist in ending Kenya’s political crisis.

The President, who chairs the 11-member country body made the directive when he met its executive secretary Liberata Mulamula.

Ms Mulamula, who was accompanied by Mr Wetang’ula, said at the Serena that the ministers are to meet ODM and PNU leaders and be part of the Annan-led talks. She said she also had met ODM leaders who rejected parallel mediation talks.

Reported by Lucas Barasa, Bernard Namunane, BBC online and Reuters

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