Kenyan foes hold first talk since disputed election
Both stress peace after riots, killings
NAIROBI, Kenya - Kenya's president and his chief rival held talks yesterday for the first time since last month's disputed election, under international pressure to find a way to share power. But the president angered the opposition by insisting his position as head of state was not negotiable.
Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga met for about an hour in the presence of former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, who succeeded where other mediators failed in getting the men to sit down together. Since the Dec. 27 vote, at least 685 people have been killed in riots and ethnic fighting and some 255,000 people have been forced from their homes.
After the meeting, Kibaki and Odinga walked out of the downtown presidential offices, shook hands, and smiled.
"I will personally lead our country in promoting unity, tolerance, peace, and harmony among Kenyans," Kibaki told reporters - making a point of saying he had been "duly elected" as president.
But at a news conference soon after Kibaki spoke, Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement condemned the president's comments.
"Calling himself the duly elected president negates the whole rationale for international mediation," said opposition spokesman Anyang Nyongo. He called for the "principles and agenda" of the mediation to be put down in writing "so that the process may formally commence."
He offered no details on yesterday's meeting besides saying only Odinga, Kibaki, and Annan were in the room.
International allies, saying the vote tally was rigged, have been urging Kibaki and Odinga to negotiate a power-sharing agreement that might create a new position of prime minister for Odinga.
After the meeting, Odinga said he was focused on peace.
"Today we have taken the first vital steps in resolving the electoral dispute and conflict," he said. "I pledge to all Kenyans that my team and I will spare no effort to resolve this crisis."
A US State Department spokesman called the meeting a positive development. "We think it is important that they do have face-to-face communication and dialogue and have an opportunity to resolve these differences," said Tom Casey. "The Kenyans certainly deserve to have political leadership that is willing to work together to resolve these issues so that the country can move forward."
Previously, Kibaki had insisted on direct talks with Odinga, while Odinga would not meet without a mediator.
Odinga's spokesman, Salim Lone, said the possibility of a judicial commision to look into alleged vote-rigging "had not been ruled out" but had to be part of Annan's mediation efforts.