African Union tries to end Kenya violence

The head of the African Union travelled to Kenya today for crisis talks hoping to end the election rioting that has killed more than 275 people.

John Kufuor’s visit came as the violence, mostly tribal-based, reached a new pitch, including the deaths of dozens of people burned alive as they sought refuge in a church.

The killing of up to 50 ethnic Kikuyus yesterday 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 a half-million people were killed.

President Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu who was sworn in for a second term on Sunday after a vote critics said was rigged, called for a meeting with his political opponents.

But opposition candidate Raila Odinga, a member of the Luo tribe, refused, saying he would meet Mr Kibaki only “if he announces that he was not elected.”

Mr Odinga accused the government of stoking the chaos saying it “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 a joint statement, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Britain’s 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 UN said 70,000 people had been displaced so far. Around 5,400 people have also fled to neighbouring Uganda.

In Nairobi’s slums, which are often divided along tribal lines, rival groups have been fighting each other with machetes and sticks as police use tear gas 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.

The church victims and others killed in Eldoret, about 185 miles north-west of Nairobi, were members of Mr Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe.

They had fled to the Assemblies of God Church seeking refuge after mobs torched homes. Video from a helicopter chartered by the Red Cross showed many homes in flames and the horizon obscured by smoke. Groups of people were seen seeking sanctuary at schools and the airport, while others moved into the forest.

Yesterday a mob of about 2,000 arrived at the church, said George Karanja, whose family had sought refuge there.

“They started burning the church,” Mr Karanja said. “The mattresses that people were sleeping on caught fire. There was a stampede, and people fell on one another.”

Mr Karanja, 37, helped pull out at least 10 people, but added, “I could not manage to pull out my sister’s son. He was screaming ’Uncle, uncle!’ ... He died.” The boy was 11.

“The worst part is that they were hacking people and then setting them on fire,” Mr Karanja added.

The Kikuyu, Kenya’s largest ethnic group, are accused of using their dominance of politics and business to the detriment of others.

There are more than 40 tribes in Kenya, and political leaders have often used unemployed and uneducated young men to intimidate opponents.

Mr Odinga insisted he would go ahead with plans to lead a protest march in the capital tomorrow even though the government has banned the demonstration.

Most Read in World