Kenyan Crisis Intensifies with High-Profile Killings Violence among ethnic tribes in Kenya continues to escalate following the disputed re-election of President Mwai Kibaki in December. The crisis is attracting the attention of several world leaders, including former U.N. chief Kofi Annan. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton offers the latest from Nairobi.
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Kenyan Crisis Intensifies with High-Profile Killings

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Kenyan Crisis Intensifies with High-Profile Killings

Kenyan Crisis Intensifies with High-Profile Killings

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I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Today, we're going to spend some time on international news. In a few minutes, we're going to talk with two women leaders from the Middle East who hope that adding women's voices to the dialogue around global security issues will lead to progress in the Middle East and elsewhere.

But first, to Kenya. There's been a month of deadly violence in the East African nation since the disputed reelection of President Mwai Kibaki late December. The opposition leader, Raila Odinga, disputes the results, and election observers say fraud was so widespread it's impossible to tell who actually won. But since then, the political dispute has degenerated into violent street clashes with ethnic overtones. More than 850 people have been killed so far, and more than a quarter of a million displaced. A number of international leaders are attempting to help negotiate an end to the crisis, including a U.S. official who recently likened the violence to ethnic cleansing.

We have more from NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton. She's in the capital, Nairobi.

Welcome. Thanks for joining us.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure.

MARTIN: So, Ofeibea, what are the latest developments? I understand that there were attacks on political leaders this week.

QUIST-ARCTON: Well, today, an opposition MP, David Kimutai Too, has been killed in Eldoret town, and that's in the Rift Valley where a lot of the problems have been. It's the second killing of an opposition politician this week.

Now, the police are saying that it was a love crime, that it was a crime of passion and an act of jealousy. Apparently, a police officer killed - shot dead this member of parliament because he believes he was staying out with his girlfriend. But on Tuesday, an opposition legislator was shot dead outside his house. The opposition are calling them both assassinations.

MARTIN: Is this considered an escalation?

QUIST-ARCTON: Certainly, the killing of Melitus Mugabe Were on Tuesday escalated the violence here. There was more rioting, and there were more ethnic killings because the opposition and supporters around the country considered it to be a politically motivated death. We'll see what the effect of the killing of the legislator today has. But generally, it's been four weeks of violence that started as a political electoral issue and has ballooned into tribal killings, rival killings and revenge killings by people from different ethnic groups here in Kenya.

MARTIN: And I'm sure you know, yesterday, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for African Affairs, Jendayi Frazer, who recently spent time there trying to help mediate the crisis, characterized the killing as ethnic cleansing. Now the State Department here is backing away from that language, but I'd like to know if this remark is being publicized in Kenya and what has been the reaction to it?

QUIST-ARCTON: You know, the average Kenyan hasn't got time to worry about what American politicians are saying, thinks of whether it's ethnic cleansing or not. I just have to describe for you, Michel, what's going on here.

At the weekend, I was in the Rift Valley, where I saw a lot of the trouble has happened. There were women and children piled into a public stadium, sleeping, eating, living out in the open. They had been chased from their homes. And then just a couple of days later, other people from a different ethnic group, the same thing is happening to them. Gangs and mobs of youths armed with machetes, bows and arrows saying to people, move. We don't want to see you here again, burning their houses. People have been burned alive in houses. People have been burned alive even in a church right at the beginning of this.

So I don't think Kenyans really have time to worry about what characterization, what labels, what loaded words are being used for what's happening. They're living the reality of ethnic rivalry. Kenyans are desperate. They're worried. They know that they have a huge problem in this country.

MARTIN: Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan is there now, and we understand that the U.N. Chief Ban Ki-moon is set to visit Kenya tomorrow. Do you see any result from these ongoing negotiations? Is there any sign that the two parties are attempting to get together to have any sort of negotiated settlement?

QUIST-ARCTON: There was a great sigh of relief when Kofi Annan got President Mwai Kibaki and the opposition leader Raila Odinga, who says he is the rightfully elected president of this country - when he got them to shake hands last week Thursday. But it's almost as if the violence, Michel, has taken off. Opposition leaders are being blamed for having stoked it in the first place by not calling enough and publicly enough for the violence to the stop.

Now, the police have been involved in trying to stop the violence, but it's almost as if it's uncontrollable. The opposition leader Raila Odinga said this country is lurching towards anarchy. Many Kenyans feel that the lawlessness that has been allowed to happen. And so the period of time - we're talking about more than a month now - makes it almost unstoppable, but they certainly want peace.

MARTIN: Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is NPR's West Africa correspondent. She's currently on assignment in Kenya. She's in Nairobi now.

Ofeibea, thank you so much for this report.

QUIST-ARCTON: And thank you.

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