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UN Official Says Kenyan Displaced Need Assistance for Several Months

The United Nations' top humanitarian official has concluded a visit to camps for people displaced by post-election violence in Kenya. He said arrangements should be made to accommodate many of the displaced for at least the next few months. Derek Kilner reports from Nairobi.

The Kenya Red Cross estimates that 300,000 Kenyans have been displaced by violence after a disputed presidential election in late December. But U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator John Holmes, following a tour of displacement camps in the country, says the actual figure is likely much higher.

"There are probably many more people who have been displaced from their homes who are not in camps, who have gone back to their ancestral homes, who are living with relatives, who are living with host communities, who are living with neighbors, who are not included at the moment in the count of people who are in camps but who are no less in need of physical help, psychological help," said Holmes.

Much of the violence has been carried out along ethnic lines, and many of those displaced were members of a minority tribe in their community. Many who have fled their homes say they do not feel comfortable returning. Holmes expressed optimism that most would be able to return to their homes, but said it could be some time yet before this is possible.

"Clearly what we all hope is that people will all be able to go home as soon as they can but it is clear from talking to people that this is not for the vast majority of them something that we can contemplate in the immediate future, given what they have been through and their experiences and the problems there still are," he continued. "No one wants camps to be there for longer than they absolutely have to be, but I think we have to plan for some camps being there for at least a period of months while the problems are being sorted out."

Holmes visited camps in the Rift Valley region, the site of some of the most serious inter-tribal clashes, as well as camps around the capital Nairobi, whose vast slums have also seen considerable violence.

Holmes said security concerns prevented the trip from reaching the western city of Kisumu. In the homeland of Raila Odinga's Luo tribe, the city has seen severe rioting and looting. The bulk of the Kikuyu community, to which President Mwai Kibaki belongs, has fled.

Violence has fallen off in recent days, as the country follows a mediation effort between Mr. Odinga and Mr. Kibaki led by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. The negotiations reportedly made significant progress on Friday. The talks are set to resume Monday with the two sides discussing a power-sharing arrangement.

There has been no word on what such an arrangement might look like, though there has been much discussion of Mr. Odinga and Mr. Kibaki sharing power for two to three years, followed by new elections. Many expect some form of agreement to be announced in the coming days.

In addition to an immediate political solution, longer-term negotiations over underlying problems, including ethnic tensions, land grievances, and constitutional reform are also planned.