Kenyans discuss power-sharing to end violence; Annan hopes for deal within days

AP Photo XRG104, XRG101, XBA102

By MALKHADIR M. MUHUMED

Associated Press Writer

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) -- Kenya's opposition wants to share power for two years with the president's party before holding new elections, top negotiators said Tuesday as talks to end weeks of postelection bloodshed moved to a secret location for a final push.

The statements are a reason for hope for many Kenyans, who have seen more than 1,000 people die and some 600,000 flee their homes in fear since the dispute over who won Dec. 27 presidential elections sparked violence. Much of the violence has pitted ethnic groups linked to particular politicians against one another.

With talks on ending the crisis making progress, former U.N. chief Kofi Annan, the chief mediator, was moving the negotiations to a secret location outside Nairobi in order to strike a deal in the next two to three days.

"During this period, he has asked for a complete news blackout," Annan's office said in a statement late Monday. "He has urged the parties not to discuss issues under negotiations with anyone outside the negotiating room."

But before heading into the sequestered talks, both sides offered a glimpse of what is on the table.

Opposition legislator William Ruto said his side's proposal includes "forming a broad-based government that lasts for two years. ... We are going to agree on how are we going to work together in governance."

Ruto said that during the two years of power sharing, the government should concentrate on reforming the constitution and electoral commission and establishing a plan to rebuild parts of the country destroyed by violence. He also suggested a truth and justice commission to look into land disputes that have contributed to the violence.

Government negotiator Mutula Kilonzo confirmed the president's party had received the proposal and would debate it "to see if we can reach an agreement." He told The Associated Press that the constitution gives the president the power to appoint opposition members to his Cabinet.

The opposition charges that President Mwai Kibaki stole the election. The government insists the vote was free and fair, despite heavy criticism from international and domestic observers.

The comments from both sides came as Annan urged Kenyan legislators to enact laws needed to resolve the political turmoil, such as land reform measures.

"You will need to work together to implement this heavy agenda. Your active involvement across party lines is necessary," he told a special session of Parliament.

Annan said the two parties already had agreed to form an independent commission to look into the electoral commission, which has faced heavy criticism for certifying Kibaki's victory -- even the commission's chairman has said he was "unsure" who actually won the vote.

"Let's pull together and get it done," Annan said. "We can't afford to fail."

Ruto, the opposition negotiator, said Friday that a power-sharing deal had been struck. Annan later called the announcement premature, although he said the two sides had made significant progress toward reaching an agreement.

Despite Ruto's statement, it is unclear where main opposition leader Raila Odinga, who says the presidency was stolen from him, stands on the issue. Speaking in English in Nairobi last week, Odinga backed off his demand that Kibaki resign or hold a new election.

But on Saturday, speaking to supporters in western Kenya in Kiswahili, the common tongue of East Africa, he said Kibaki "must step down or there must be a re-election -- in this I will not be compromised."

Then on Sunday, he again said he was prepared for "giving and taking."

Odinga's supporters, meanwhile, have applied their own pressure.

In his stronghold in western Kenya, the epicenter of much of the violence of the past six weeks, they have threatened to burn down his farm and a large molasses factory owned by his family if he returns as anything less than president.

More violence would only sink Kenya further into a deepening hole. It already has gutted the country's once-booming economy and left its reputation as a budding democracy in tatters.

The ethnic component to the violence has polarized Kenyans like never before. In many parts, members of some tribes have been forced to flee their homes and many people are moving to their ethnic group's historic homelands, even if they themselves had never lived there before.