Rift Valley clashes claim 19 lives as Annan makes moves to end crisis

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The Independent Online

Kenyans in the Rift Valley town of Naivasha were braced for fresh violence today after a spate of ethnic killings which complicated efforts by former UN boss Kofi Annan to resolve a month-long crisis.

At least 19 people were killed here on Sunday in battles between members of President Mwai Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe and Luos and Kalenjins who backed his rival Raila Odinga in disputed elections a month ago.

A Reuters reporter heard screams late into the night. Mobs stopped cars on the main highway and demanded passengers' identity cards. One man was beaten before being kicked under the wheels of a minibus as it sped to safety.

At least 750 people have died since the Dec. 27 polls plunged Kenya into a spiral of violence, battering its image as an east African trade and tourism hub and one of the continent's more stable nations.

Negotiators led by Annan have told the two rival camps to select four representatives each and study a blueprint for further talks in the next 24 hours, an official involved in the mediation said.

But residents in Naivasha, on Kenya's main western highway, appeared to put little faith in Annan's mediation efforts.

"Those people shouting for Raila, they don't want peace. They have been killing our people, burning our houses," said David Gitonga, a Naivasha resident who had been manning a roadblock until the army cleared it away.

"Now it's our turn to have justice."

Odinga put the death toll in Naivasha at 30 and blamed the government for trying to divert the attention of the mediation team away from the original electoral dispute.

The Kenya Red Cross said it wanted to retrieve and count the bodies in Naivasha before giving a definitive toll. Charred corpses lay among collapsed rafters in one house in the town.

Annan said on Saturday that the crisis in Kenya had gone well beyond an electoral dispute, denouncing "gross and systematic" human rights abuses.

On Thursday, he brokered the first talks between Kibaki and Odinga since the troubles began.

But hopes of a quick solution evaporated hours later amid fresh verbal attacks by both camps, and that night Nakuru, the Rift Valley's provincial capital, descended into chaos.

Deep seated tribal rivalries over land, business and power - many of them sown more than 45 years ago under British colonial rule - have eclipsed the political stand-off.

A quarter of a million people have been forced from their homes by the turmoil and many Kenyans fear that the scars will remain long after the political crisis has subsided.