Accusations of Ethnic Genocide and Fears of Civil War as Kenyan Crisis Escalates
BYLINE: Katharine Houreld
NAIROBI: The head of the African Union was travelling to Kenya On Tuesday for crisis talks to end an explosion of post-election violence that has killed hundreds of people, including dozens burned alive as they sought refuge in a church.
The killing of up to 50 ethnic Kikuyus on Tuesday as they sheltered in a church in the Rift Valley city of Eldoret recalled scenes from the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, when more than half a million people were killed.
The question facing Kenya is whether the politicians will lose control of the mobs, triggering a civil war in what has been one of Africa's most stable democracies.
President Mwai Kibaki, who was swiftly inaugurated for a second term on Sunday after a vote that critics said was rigged, called for a meeting with his opponents - a significant softening of tone for a man who rarely speaks to the media and who vowed to crack down on rioters.
But opposition candidate Raila Odinga refused, saying he would meet Kibaki only "if he announces that he was not elected".
Odinga accused the government of stoking the chaos, telling the Associated Press in an interview that Kibaki's administration "is guilty, directly, of genocide".
Meanwhile, the head of the country's electoral commission, Samuel Kivuitu, said he had been pressured by both sides to announce the results quickly - and perhaps wrongly. In Tuesday's edition, the country's oldest newspaper, the Standard, quoted Kivuitu as saying: "I do not know whether Kibaki won the election."
The head of the African Union, Ghanaian president John Kufuor, is going to Nairobi to help mediate the post-election violence, said the AU's spokesperson Habiba Mejri-Cheikh Tuesday. She declined to offer further details.
In a joint statement, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband welcomed the emergency visit and called "on all political leaders to engage in a spirit of compromise that puts the democratic interests of Kenya first".
"The immediate priority is to combine a sustained call from Kenya's political leaders for the cessation of violence by their followers with an intensive political and legal process that can build a united and peaceful future for Kenya," the statement said.
The UN cited Kenyan police as saying 70 000 people had been displaced so far. About 5 400 people have also fled to neighbouring Uganda, said Musa Ecweru, that country's disaster preparedness minister.
In Nairobi's slums, which are often divided along ethnic lines, rival groups have been fighting one another with machetes and sticks as police use teargas and bullets to keep them from pouring into the city centre.
The capital has been a ghost town for days, with residents stocking up on food and water and staying in their homes. After a brief lull, sporadic clashes broke out again on Tuesday night in Nairobi's sprawling Mathare slum, where fires lit the evening sky.
One man, Livingstone Wesonga, said Tuesday that ambulances had been unable to reach the area overnight because of the violence.
Asked why he had not fled with his family, Wesonga said: "Where can I take them? Every place is not safe because this thing is |spreading."
John Okello, a doctor, said clinics around the city were running short of basic materials like white gauze, because so many people have been arriving after being slashed with machetes. …