Kenya's rival sides agree to halt violence

But 14 killed as police fire on mobs setting homes and businesses ablaze in the west of the country.

Kenya 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Kenya 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Kenya's rival sides agreed to take immediate action to end month-long violence over the disputed presidential election, while the death toll mounted when police fired on mobs setting homes and businesses ablaze in the west of the country. Mediator Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary-general, said Friday they had agreed to tackle within a week the most pressing issues including resolving the immediate political crisis. Both sides called for illegal militias to be disbanded and for the investigation of all crimes connected to the violence, including alleged excessive use of force by police. "The first (step) is to take immediate action to stop the violence and restore fundamental liberties," Annan said. In western Kenya, police fired on armed mobs who set homes and businesses on fire. At least 14 people died in the latest clashes, ignited by a police officer killing an opposition legislator on Thursday. Overnight, people turned the wood and stone Grape Harvest Prayer Palace Center, a Pentecostal church in western Eldoret town, into a smoldering ruin. The nephew of the owner who had fled, Peter Ndungu, said it was because his aunt was from President Mwai Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe. The church was empty. Far from the violence, in neighboring Ethiopia, Kibaki told leaders at an African summit that "the security situation in the country is under control." Annan said he had suggested to Kibaki on Tuesday that "a preventative deployment of the military may be necessary." He added, "Everyone would have to admit that the police are a bit over-stretched." British Foreign Office Minister Mark Malloch Brown, who was at the African summit Friday, also suggested deploying Kenya's army, saying police "at this stage seem to be seen as no longer neutral and behind some of the killings." Thursday's shooting of legislator David Kimutai Too added to distrust of police. Police stations were targeted in three western towns. In Too's home village, a mob of 3,000 armed with bows and arrows, spears, clubs and machetes killed a police officer, local police commander Peter Aliwa confirmed. The mob accused the officer of wounding a civilian when police opened fire on protesters demonstrating Thursday over Too's death. It was the first police casualty reported in a month of bloodshed in which police have acknowledged killing scores of people. In another western village, six people were hacked to death and two killed with poisoned arrows, witnesses said. Nyamira District Commissioner Samuel Njora confirmed the deaths at Ikonge, some 380 kilometers west of the capital, Nairobi. He said Kalenjin people were killing Kisii, blaming them for the legislator's killing because they are considered government allies. The fighting there was continuing, he said. More than 800 people have been killed and 300,000 forced from their homes in violence that degenerated into ethnic clashes over decades-old grudges about land and other resources. It has pitted other tribes against Kibaki's Kikuyu people, who are resented for their long domination of politics and the economy. The trigger was the announcement that Kibaki had been re-elected despite a vote tally that the international community and international and local election observers all agree was rigged. In Ethiopia, Kibaki's address to African leaders indicated just how far apart he stands from opposition leader Raila Odinga. Kibaki repeated his claim that he was rightfully elected and suggested his opponents take their grievances over the election to the courts. The opposition has already said it cannot go to courts loaded with Kibaki's allies. "The judiciary in Kenya has over the years arbitrated electoral disputes, and the current one should not be an exception," Kibaki told the summit in a closed session. The text of his speech was distributed to reporters. He said the opposition's rejection of the courts had the "encouragement and support of some foreign countries" and could only subvert and weaken democratic institutions. The document signed Friday by both sides said an agreement might require "adjustments" to the constitution - suggesting a power-sharing arrangement, being pushed by the international community, that would give Odinga a new position of prime minister. Kibaki blamed the opposition for the violence, saying "the ongoing crisis erupted after the opposition ... went ahead to instigate a campaign of civil unrest and violence. There is overwhelming evidence to indicate that the violence was premeditated, and systematically directed at particular communities (ethnic groups)." Odinga blamed the government. Both sides had condemned the violence but "there is ample evidence that sections of the security forces are themselves abetting this violence, including through supporting a much-feared militia which relentlessly pursues communities which supported ODM," his party. He made the charges in a letter he gave to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at a meeting Friday. Moon had met with Kibaki in Ethiopia on Thursday. There was no sign of the violence letting up in the western Rift Valley, scene of the worst clashes. About 20 elders of the Kalenjin tribe, angered by police shootings in their town of Eldoret, blamed the government and vowed vengeance. "If the government will continue shooting and directing guns at our people, the Kalenjin ... we will rise up in arms," said Zacharia Baruo. The Kalenjin generally support Odinga's party. "The government has started the war on us and we are ready to fight back," said another elder, Joseph Chumba.