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Kenya Factions in AU-Mediated Talks


African Union leader John Kufuor, held talks with Kenya's president and opposition leader in Nairobi in a bid to break a post-election deadlock that has inflamed ethnic tensions to violent levels. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu in Nairobi reports there is growing mistrust and anger among Kenyans that is threatening to leave the country ethnically divided.

Media reports from the western town of Kisumu say that hundreds of people belonging to the Kamba tribe are fleeing the area, terrified militiamen who support the opposition party of Raila Odinga will kill them.

The opposition accuses incumbent President Mwai Kibaki of stealing the December 27 presidential vote and is demanding fresh elections. The vote took place peacefully, but was subsequently marred by irregularities in the vote counting process.

In Kisumu, a stronghold of Mr. Odinga's Luo tribe, ethnic Kambas are reportedly being targeted, because one of the defeated presidential candidates, ethnic Kamba politician Kalonzo Musyoka, dropped his neutrality in the post-election dispute by accepting the position of vice-president in Mr. Kibaki's government.

Thousands of people from the president's majority Kikuyu tribe and other supporters of Mr. Kibaki have already been chased out of Kisumu and other parts of Kenya by angry supporters of Mr. Odinga.

More than a week of rioting and ethnic clashes has killed hundreds of people throughout the country and more than 250,000 Kenyans have been uprooted.

Residents of the western Rift Valley town of Eldoret tell VOA that thousands of ethnic Kikuyus there, who up until two weeks ago had lived peacefully with neighbors belonging to other tribes, have all left, mostly for the central highlands, the traditional homeland of the Kikuyus.

Hospitals in highland towns such as Nyeri say their wards are full of Kikuyu men suffering from wounds from axes, machetes, and bows and arrows. The Kikuyu people say they are being unfairly targeted, because the tribe, the largest of about 40 in Kenya, has dominated the country's politics and economy since independence from Britain in 1963.

In a worrying sign, Vincent Murunga, a member of the Luhya tribe from Nyeri, tells VOA that non-ethnic Kikuyus are fleeing their homes in the central highlands, because they fear revenge attacks by Kikuyu mobs.

"In Nyeri town, people from outside of Kikuyu [tribe] have been forced to run away to look for security, because these fellows want revenge for what has happened to their tribesmen in other parts of the country," he noted.

President Kibaki announced his new Cabinet late Tuesday in a move the opposition has called a slap in the face designed to undermine international mediation efforts. A leading Kenyan newspaper, the Daily Nation, voiced concerns that the appointments had the potential to poison the atmosphere before the African Union-mediated talks.

A bank employee working in Nyeri, Godfrey Biketi, tells VOA that most Kenyans are deeply disturbed about the political dispute and the violence it has ignited. He says many are frightened about what may happen to the country if it is not resolved quickly.

"We just hope the politicians are going to settle this down so that we can continue with our normal life," he said.

Raila Odinga is a former political prisoner, who helped President Kibaki win his first five-year term in 2002. The two men became bitter political rivals after Mr. Odinga was fired from government in 2005.

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