Kenyan Town Burns As Fighting Intensifies

Kikuyu residents salvage a pool table from a row of houses burned to the ground during ethnic clashes with members of the Kalenjin tribe in Nakuru, Kenya, Friday, Jan. 25, 2008.
AP Photo/Ben Curtis
A town was burned down and at least five people were killed in the latest ethnic clashes in western Kenya sparked by a dispute over last month's presidential election, the Kenya Red Cross Society said Friday.

Some 50 people have been wounded by clubs and machetes and up to 3,000 have been left homeless in fighting that erupted Thursday in the town of Total Station, said Red Cross Secretary General Abbas Gullet. Aid workers said the latest violence pits people from President Mwai Kibaki's Kikuyu ethnic group against the Kalenjin, who support opposition leader Raila Odinga.

Sixty percent of Total Station's buildings had been razed in fires, Gullet said. The town is in the Rift Valley, which has seen some of the worst of the post-election violence.

Since the Dec. 27 vote, at least 685 people have been killed nationwide in riots and ethnic fighting and some 255,000 people have been forced from their homes.

"The spiral effects of counterattacks and reprisals is getting out of hand in the Rift Valley," said Gullet. He showed film of people fleeing for safety to a mosque and police station with columns of flames and black smoke rising in the background.

He also said up to 50,000 people had fled their homes in recent days in other clashes around the Rift Valley town of Molo.

The police commander there, Achesa Litabalia, said a group of Kikuyus attacked Kalenjins near Molo overnight and three of the attackers were killed.

His and Gullet's comments indicated that Kikuyus previously attacked by Kalenjin in the area are seeking revenge.

On Thursday, Kibaki and Odinga held talks for the first time since the election, under international pressure to find a way to share power. But Kibaki angered the opposition by insisting after the hour-long meeting, mediated by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, that his position as head of state was not negotiable.

U.S. presidential hopeful Barack Obama, the Democratic senator whose father was Kenyan, issued a statement saying, "President Kibaki must permit the opposition meaningful participation in the government."

He added that Odinga "must seek a peaceful resolution and reject violent protest and disorder."

Friday, the opposition said Kibaki should not be allowed to send a delegation to an African Union summit planned next week in neighboring Ethiopia.

"We are telling the world, including the African Union, that Kibaki's government is not the legitimate government," said Salim Lone, spokesman for Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement. "The AU should accept our call because Kibaki lost the election and all the independent institutions in the world have shown this was a fraudulent election."

Also Friday, Odinga said he would not serve as prime minister in Kibaki's government, an idea that was previously floated, reports CBS News reporter Katherine Arms.

Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka reiterated Kibaki's position Friday, telling The Associated Press that "The matter of the legitimacy of the government is not in doubt whatsoever."

International allies, though, have said the vote tally was rigged.

The Pan-African Parliament, set up under the African Union, on Thursday issued a report from its election monitors that said Kenya's elections did not meet democratic standards. It urged the African Union "to look into a protocol that will deal with future revelations of vote-rigging by member states using state power."

While politics sparked the fighting, much of the violence has been rooted in ethnic conflicts, pitting other groups against Kibaki's Kikuyu people who are resented for their domination of politics and the economy in Kenya.

Human Rights Watch said it has evidence that opposition party leaders "actively fomented," organized and directed ethnic attacks in the Rift Valley, and plans were in the making to attack camps of displaced Kikuyu there.

The New York-based group, citing interviews with numerous members of the Kalenjin people native to the area, said its investigations indicated "opposition party officials and local elders planned and organized ethnic-based violence in the Rift Valley."

The allegations were vigorously denied by William Ruto, a senior opposition party official and legislator for one of 49 constituencies in the Rift Valley.

"For my constituency, nothing, absolutely nothing could be further from the truth. There was to the best of my knowledge, no organization that could put together the kind of logistics that could enable the kind of violence that we saw in that part of the world," Ruto told The Associated Press. "That was a spontaneous reaction to the (election) results."

Meanwhile, the United Nations World Food Programme said its Kenyan partners had started providing food aid from WFP and the Kenyan government in a new round of distributions in the Nairobi slums, Arms reports.

The Kenya Red Cross Society and WFP have also started delivering one-month rations to camps in the northern Rift Valley for 67,000 people who fled their homes - often with just the clothes on their backs.

The slums need food assistance because many residents rely on casual labor to survive and were unable to work during the unrest and now construction and similar jobs are on hold until the situation normalizes. Food prices in the slums have risen in recent weeks and many people cannot afford to buy what they need to survive, Arms reports.