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Kenyan Parliament Debates Power-Sharing Deal

Kenya's parliament has reconvened, with lawmakers planning to discuss a power-sharing accord between the country's two main parties. As Derek Kilner reports from Nairobi, a statement Monday by a government official has raised concerns among the opposition about whether the government is backtracking on its commitments.

The agreement, signed at the end of February by President Mwai Kibaki and his main challenger in the presidential race, Raila Odinga, calls for the creation of a prime minister's office that would go to Mr. Odinga, and for government positions to be split evenly between the two parties.

But a statement Monday by the head of Kenya's civil service, Francis Muthaura, on how the coalition would operate, drew criticism from Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement. Party leaders say the statement describes a weaker role for the prime minister and less sharing of government positions than was agreed.

A leading member of the Orange Democratic Movement, Najib Balala, warned the government from retreating on its commitments under the agreement.

"They promised the world and signed on a paper that they will keep that word," he said. "And if it backtracks from the promise, I want to say that this country is going to be in bad shape."

Both President Kibaki and Mr. Odinga have called for parliament to act quickly to pass legislation enacting the agreement, but key details of how the coalition will operate have not yet been agreed. These include the precise powers of the prime minister, how the cabinet positions will be divided between the parties, and what happens if the coalition collapses.

Meanwhile, Kenya's military and police are continuing an operation that began early last week in the country's west against the Sabaot Land Defense Force. The group has been involved in clashes over land distribution in the Mt. Elgon district that have killed several-hundred people in the past two years and displaced tens of thousands.

The group was blamed for an attack on two villages last week that killed 13 people.

A former lawmaker from the district, Wilberforce Kisiero criticized the operation.

"Mt. Elgon area right now is being bombed from the air by helicopters which are throwing bombs. Military personnel jointly with the police and other armed forces are also rounding up people in an effort to hunt down what they call Sabaot Land Defense Forces," he said. "There is a very serious human tragedy in Mt. Elgon at the moment."

The operation has set off a renewed wave of displacement from the district, part of the Rift Valley region that was at the center of January's post-election violence, with some fleeing across the border to Uganda.