Kenya peace deal still elusive as talks stall

Heidi Vogt

Heidi Vogt

NAIROBI - Government and opposition leaders in Kenya said yesterday they were once again closing in on a deal to share power, but continued to spar over details as they asked a violence-weary country to wait a few days more for the end of a bloody political crisis.

Talks were suspended at the weekend as negotiators met with their respective party leaders in consultations they said would push them closer to a deal when they resume today.

But as both sides try to share power without relinquishing authority, a deal has remained elusive despite repeated promises of an imminent agreement.

Though recent weeks have been largely calm, Kenya has been scarred by the deaths of more than 1000 people, while about 600000 were forced from their homes.

Despite weeks of international pressure, President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga have not agreed on how to resolve a crisis stemming from the December 27 elections, which local and foreign observers say were rigged.

On Friday, a senior African diplomat said the negotiations had reached a crucial - and largely positive - stage.

"We are satisfied with the progress made. I have an impression that we are moving," said Jean Ping, chairman of the African Union Commission.

But with the weekend came the need for each side to decide its position on difficult issues. These include the specific powers involved in the prime minister post being created for Odinga and whether changes to the government structure should be temporary, or inscribed permanently into the constitution.

"There is a political opportunity that can move the process forward. One would hope that we do not again return to posturing by arguments that a constitutional amendment is not possible," Tony Gachoka, a spokesman for Odinga's Orange Democratic Party, said on Saturday.

But government negotiators sounded unwilling to consider any sort of constitutional change.

"You cannot amend a constitution to accommodate just one individual," said government negotiator Mutula Kilonzo.

Odinga's party has accused the administration of dragging out the negotiations in the hope that the opposition would be forced to give way. - Sapa-AP