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Politicians blamed for poll bloodshed

Prominent Kenyan politicians and businessmen participated in bloody ethnic violence at the beginning of the year, says commission.

Supporters of the presidential candidate Raila Odinga demonstrate with sticks and hammers in the Mathare slum of Nairobi after the Dec 2007 elections.
Supporters of the presidential candidate Raila Odinga demonstrate with sticks and hammers in the Mathare slum of Nairobi after the Dec 2007 elections.

NAIROBI // Prominent Kenyan politicians and businessmen participated in bloody ethnic violence at the beginning of the year, according to the final report of the commission investigating Kenya's post-election clashes. The report, released on Thursday, calls for an international tribunal to be set up to try suspected perpetrators of the violence that followed the 2007 presidential election. The tribunal, which would be similar to war crimes courts for Sierra Leone and Rwanda, will be set up by February, according to Philip Waki, a Kenyan judge who chaired the commission. "The special tribunal will be known as the Special Tribunal for Kenya," Mr Waki said. "It will be set up as a court which will sit within the territorial boundaries of Kenya, and it will seek accountability against persons bearing the greatest responsibility for crimes, particularly crimes against humanity, relating to the 2007 general election." Mwai Kibaki, the president, claimed victory in the Dec 27 election despite accusations from challenger Raila Odinga that the poll was flawed. The disputed election sparked a wave of ethnic violence across the country that killed 1,100 people and displaced another 300,000. A powersharing deal in March brokered by Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general, ended the violence. Mr Kibaki remained president while a new post of prime minister was created for Mr Odinga. The report implicated top politicians in organising the violence, but did not name them. Mr Waki said that the names of the politicians would be released once the special tribunal is established. If the special court is not created within the time frame, the suspects' names will be given to the International Criminal Court, the permanent war crimes court in The Hague, Mr Waki said. According to the report, politicians met at State House, the residence of Mr Kibaki, to plan at least one violent clash in the town of Naivasha in January. Politicians and businessmen from the Kikuyu tribe, the president's ethnic group, planned the attack with members of Mungiki, an outlawed Kikuyu gang. Mr Kibaki, whose government commissioned the report, did not respond to the accusations, but said the report is a chance for the country to heal. "I believe that this report provides us with an opportunity to learn from the past in order to avoid making future pitfalls," he said during a press conference. Diplomats praised the 500-page report, which was the final product of months of hearings. "We reiterate our strong support for this process and our hope that the Kenyan people will seize this historic opportunity," 26 foreign missions in Kenya, including the United States and European Union, said in a statement. Human Rights Watch, a New York-based rights organisation, said the report is a good first step but called on the Kenyan government to seek justice for crimes committed during the violent clashes. "The Waki commission has done an admirable job describing the causes of the violence and assembling evidence," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Now the politicians need to set up the special tribunal it recommends. It is Kenyans who will pay the price in future violence if politicians allow this important report to become just another unheeded warning." A separate report released last week called for the formation of a new electoral commission before Kenya's next presidential election in 2012. The Electoral Commission of Kenya was widely criticised for mishandling the disputed election. Most of the 300,000 people living in displacement camps have returned home, but at least 10,000 remain in the camps, according to aid organisations. Another 50,000 have left the camps as part of a government resettlement programme, but refused to return home and have set up temporary transit camps. Those refusing to return to their villages say they fear for their safety. Aeneas Chuna, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Kenya, said the government needs to do more to address the displaced people's needs. "Displacement ends when particular needs and vulnerabilities linked to the displacement are resolved, and not always with return," Mr Chuna said during a news conference in Nairobi. "For these people and for those who have not yet returned, continued assistance and support is required to find durable solutions." Human rights activists have criticised the government's resettlement programme, saying that displaced people were forced out of the camps without support and without anywhere to go. However, Ali Mohamed, the minister in charge of assisting displaced persons, said the government has built 10,000 houses and another 40,000 are under construction. The government has spent a total of US$18 million (Dh66m) during "Operation Return Home", he said. "We want to celebrate Christmas this year with all the displaced having left the camps," he said. mbrown@thenational.ae