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Former UN Chief Tells Kenya's Leaders to Unite for Country

Former United Nations chief Kofi Annan ended a visit to Kenya Friday, calling on the country's leaders to resolve their political disputes and to implement the proposed new constitution. As the country prepares to vote in a referendum on the document, politicians are still locked in a debate about its contents.

Speaking to journalists at the end of his four-day visit, Annan stressed the importance of Kenya's parliament members reaching a consensus on the constitution.

He said the country needed a united leadership in the lead-up to the referendum and called on leaders to put aside their differences to ensure the vote ushers in a new era of governance.

"There must be a unity of purpose to ensure effective decision-making within the coalition government. The cooperation of the leaders will be especially important in the post-referendum period," said the former U.N. chief.

Annan has stepped in to heal a rift between the country's president and prime minister that has threatened to put the coalition government on the brink of collapse. He urged President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga to settle their differences over the suspension of cabinet ministers accused of mismanaging public funds.

The former U.N. chief said it was critically important that all Kenyans have the chance to vote in the referendum. With registration underway for a new electoral roll, he said every member of the public should be able to take part in the process. "I strongly encourage all Kenyans to register as soon as possible, remembering that every vote counts," he said.

Annan mediated the talks that ended widespread ethnic violence in Kenya following the disputed presidential election in December 2007. He has consistently warned the country's leaders to implement key reforms agreed as part of the power-sharing deal, or face a return to political chaos in the run up to the next election in 2012.

He also stressed the importance of fulfilling its commitment to trying suspects of violent crimes committed during the post-election violence and expressed concern over reports of the intimidation of potential witnesses and human rights defenders, and of extra-judicial killings.

Annan said that 2010 could be an historic year for Kenya, if it unites and works for its interests as a whole. "This is a year that Kenya could have a new constitution; a solid base for land reform; a new electoral law and a fresh voter registration list - not to mention other major reforms," he said.

He finished by appealing to the country's leaders again to work together, and with the people, to achieve these goals. History, he said, will judge them harshly if they allow the opportunity to slip.