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Resettlement of Kenyan IDPs Raises Concerns


Kenya's effort to resettle the hundreds-of-thousands of people displaced by post-election violence entered its third day. As Derek Kilner reports from Nairobi, some displaced people have refused to return home, fearing for their safety.

There is widespread agreement on the need to move Kenya's many internally displaced people out of the camps they are staying in and back to their homes. The camps are crowded and the risk of disease has risen with the arrival of the rainy season.

But there is also a concern that the underlying tensions between communities over land that caused the violence in the first place, are not being addressed. Thousands of refugees, particularly in the Rift Valley towns of Nakuru, Eldoret, and Molo have refused to go home, saying they fear future attacks.

Africa Policy Institute researcher Manasseh Wepundi has been studying the post-election displacement in Kenya.

"I have not heard of any cases of force, but I would talk of intimidation. I think there are quite a good number of IDPs who feel intimidated on both ends," said Wepundi. "They feel intimidated to go back to their farms, going back to nothing. They also feel intimidated by the prospect of going to potentially hostile areas."

Hassan Omar Hassan, of the Kenya National Human Rights Commission worries that the government has not done enough to promote reconciliation in the communities to which the displaced people are being returned.

"We had wished that the process of resettlement was going hand in hand with other processes of reconciliation among the communities within the areas. Our key interest is not the politics it is the humanitarian element to ensure that they are resettled as fast as possible so that they can get their lives back on track," he said. "But it must be done in a manner that is also sustainable, it guarantees their security it guarantees their coexistence with the local communities."

Many of the displaced belong to President Mwai Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe, who fled attacks from members of the Kalenjin community. Many Kalenjins complain that Kikuyus from Central Kenya have resettled on land in the Rift Valley that traditionally belongs to Kalenjins.

Politicians from Kalenjin areas of the Rift Valley have urged the government to address these grievances before resettling refugees, prompting Kikuyu politicians in the region to complain that IDPs are being used as political bargaining chips.

Researcher Wepundi says many displaced people do not have any physical homes to stay in, particularly those from the towns.

"There are those who have nothing to go back to, they were only tenants in urban areas. We are creating another class of homeless people in our towns. And these are the people who are sticking to the camps, saying they will not go back unless some of their issues are addressed," said Wepundi.

For now, President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the political rivals who share power in a coalition government are in agreement on the need to proceed with resettlement. But if displaced people continue to object to being sent home, the fragile government could be faced with a major test.

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