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US in Diplomatic Push to End Kenya Violence

The State Department says the United States is engaged in a wide-ranging diplomatic effort to try to end election-related political violence in Kenya. U.S. officials are making direct appeals to President Mwai Kibaki and opposition chief Raila Odinga, and are urging Kenya's neighbors to do the same. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The Bush administration is trying not to take sides in the Kenya election dispute. But is trying to maximize pressure on both sides to reach an accommodation and end post-election violence that has killed more that 300 people and threatens to split one of Africa's most stable countries along ethnic lines.

After a telephone conversation late Tuesday with British Foreign Secretary David Milliband, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her British counterpart issued a joint statement calling on all Kenyan political leaders to "engage in a spirit of compromise that puts the democratic interests of Kenya first."

Rice followed that up Wednesday with a direct telephone appeal to Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga, and scheduled a similar call to President Kibaki. State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said she was asking both to do everything they possibly can to come to some reconciliation and end the political tensions that have given rise to violence.

"What needs to happen now is that within the confines of Kenyan democracy, and their laws and constitution, that you have a political settlement of this," he said. "Surely, while the differences may be great between these two political parties and these two individuals, they can on behalf of their country and in the best interests of their country, come up with a political settlement."

McCormack said U.S. diplomats are also urging Kenya's neighbors and the African Union to intercede, so that the two leaders "feel the pressure from all sides" to make an accommodation.

Early returns from the December 27 presidential vote had shown opposition leader Odinga in the lead. Violence broke out during the weekend after voting tallies were mysteriously delayed in key districts, and election authorities declared Mr. Kibaki the winner.

The State Department Sunday congratulated the president on his apparent re-election but later rescinded the comment as European Union and other observers reported irregularities in the vote-count.

Under questioning Wednesday, McCormack declined to say whether the United States recognizes a Kibaki victory and said if there was manipulation of the vote-count, authorities need to deal with it in accordance with Kenyan laws.

"The Kenyan political process has unfolded as it will," he said. "It is not for us to play a role as a supra-electoral commission or try to play a judicial role in this particular matter. We are where we are, and what is most urgent right now is that there be some political steps, within the political arena, to try to bridge differences to stop this killing."

McCormack said while the United States supports the right of political expression, it is not for him to say whether the mass rally planned by opposition leader Odinga in Nairobi Thursday should be held. The Kibaki government says it has banned the gathering for security reasons.

The State Department issued a notice Monday urging American travelers to Kenya to strongly consider the risks of visiting there because of the "volatile" situation.

McCormack however said the U.S. embassy in Nairobi was open for business Wednesday and will review the security situation day-by-day.