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US Targets Senior Kenyan Officials for Impeding Reforms

The U.S. government says it sent warning letters to 15 senior Kenyan officials who are viewed as impeding the implementation of key governance reforms. The U.S. ambassador to Kenya further stated that travel bans would be issued against some of the 15 in the coming weeks.

The letters sent to the Kenyan officials and signed by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson make no mention of a potential travel ban, but warn the targeted individuals that their "future relationship" with the United States is dependent on their performance in aiding Kenya's political reform process.

Although the names of the letters' recipients were not disclosed, U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger said the list included cabinet ministers, government ministry permanent secretaries, members of parliament, and other prominent officials.

The announcement follows months of threats from senior U.S. officials that the failure of some Kenyan leaders to push for agreed upon reforms is causing a major rift in the two nations' relations.

Among key steps specified by the United States as crucial are the overhaul of the country's police and judicial institutions, fighting corruption, the creation of a permanent electoral commission, the completion of a constitutional review process, and bringing to justice those responsible for the use of political violence.

The United States also said it will "more closely scrutinize" future dealings between Kenya and international financial institutions.

The ambassador said the letters are proof repeated U.S. warnings have not been idle threats.

"These steps reflect the message President Obama and Secretary Clinton have clearly and repeatedly delivered: that we are deeply concerned by [the] lack of implementation of key elements of the reform agenda, and that, while we want to help the reform process, we will not do business as usual with those who do not support reform or who support violence to achieve political ends," Ranneberger said.

The so-called reform agenda was a core part of the agreement mediated by former United Nations chief Kofi Annan that ended the post-election standoff between President Mwai Kibaki and now-Prime Minister Raila Odinga, bringing to a halt weeks of violent turmoil.

Ranneberger stressed these actions towards Kenya are directed from the very top of the U.S. government. President Obama, whose father was Kenyan, is widely viewed as a national hero in the country.

"And if you will notice, these letters come from Washington. It is a growing sense of frustration at the highest levels that despite all the rhetoric and commissions and talk and all that - not much has happened, Ranneberger said.

The ambassador reported that he had already received a couple phone calls from the targeted officials expressing a desire to sit down with the U.S. envoy to discuss their role in pushing for reforms.

Kenya's government spokesman, Alfred Mutua, dismissed the U.S. threats, saying travel bans will do nothing to help the reform process.