Talks in Kenya suspended

NAIROBI, Kenya — NAIROBI, Kenya -- Saying that efforts to resolve Kenya's political crisis have stalled, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan suspended mediation talks yesterday and called upon the nation's presidential rivals to work with him directly.

"We cannot continue on the current basis," Annan said last night after a daylong session with negotiating teams representing the government and the opposition ended in insults and acrimony. "We were turning around in circles."


Also yesterday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who visited Kenya last week to urge a settlement, expressed disappointment in what she called a "failure of leadership." She said the United States would take "necessary steps" to punish those it deems responsible for undermining negotiations.

"I want to emphasize that the future of our relationship with both sides and their legitimacy hinges on their cooperation to achieve this political solution," Rice said in a statement issued from China, where she is traveling.


Rice did not provide specifics on what steps the United States might take, but U.S. officials have threatened in recent weeks to reduce aid to Kenya or restrict travel by its leaders.

More than 1,000 people have been killed in this East African nation since a disputed Dec. 27 presidential election that uncorked decades of economic frustration and ethnic tensions. Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga both claim to have won the election, which international observers say was marred by widespread tallying irregularities.

Last week, Annan, who has been in Kenya since Jan. 22 to oversee African Union-led mediation efforts, expressed optimism that a compromise was imminent, saying he could see "light at the end of the tunnel."

Yesterday, however, he said little progress had been made this week. Talks had not broken down permanently but had reached a stalemate that only the two principals can resolve, he said.

In a sign of how far apart the parties remain, they did not agree yesterday on whether talks had stalled.

"We are not going around in circles," said Mutula Kilonzo, one of the government's negotiators. "It's just that we have firm positions on both sides. We have tended to feel that we are being railroaded."

Government officials have come under fire in recent weeks, in Kenya and other countries, for their perceived reluctance to cede powers in a coalition government. Yesterday, opposition negotiators accused them of reversing positions agreed to at the negotiating table.

Over the past week, both sides have agreed to create a prime minister post for Odinga, but they remain divided on how much authority that position would carry. They also disagree on whether early elections should be held, how to share Cabinet positions and whether to formalize their agreement in the nation's constitution.


Odinga, who says Kibaki reneged on a 2002 promise to appoint him prime minister, wants the creation and powers of that post guaranteed in a constitutional amendment. He is threatening to resume nationwide protests tomorrow if progress is not made.

Edmund Sanders writes for the Los Angeles Times.