4 January 2008 Some 250,000 Kenyans are now estimated to have been displaced by post-electoral violence, United Nations humanitarian officials reported today, as the world body’s independent human rights experts voiced deep concern at the ethnic dimension of the conflict.
Overall, between 400,000 and 500,000 people have been affected by the conflict.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke by telephone today with both President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga, and called on them to resolve their issues through dialogue. The violence, which has reportedly claimed more than 300 lives, erupted after Mr. Kibaki was declared the winner of last week’s poll. Mr. Ban also spoke with Ghanaian President John Kufuor, current chairman of the African Union.
Meanwhile, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) reported that virtually all movement of food for both western Kenya and the entire region, including Uganda, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), was frozen for days due to the insecurity.
The 14 human rights experts, covering issues ranging from racism to sexual violence to freedom of belief, deplored the growing inter-ethnic conflict, citing the deaths of dozens of civilians, including children and women, after a mob set fire to a church where they had taken sanctuary.
“We are profoundly alarmed by the reports of incitement to racial hatred and the growing frictions between the different ethnic groups,” they said in a statement calling on the authorities, political, ethnic and religious leaders to put an end “to what may become the dynamics of inter-ethnic killings… in the light of historical precedents in the region.”
Rwanda, to the west of Kenya, was the scene of genocide in 1994, when ethnic Hutu extremists massacred some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Ethnic conflict between Hutus and Tutsis has also killed hundreds of thousands of people over the past four decades in Burundi, Rwanda’s southern neighbour.
In a litany of “great concern,” the experts said the massive displacement, especially in the Rift Valley, threatened the right to food, health, housing and education. They also cited reports of gang rapes and the attendant likelihood of HIV infection and reported curbs on free expression, in particular a ban on live coverage of events.
“While we recognize the prerogative and duty of the Kenyan authorities to maintain public order, we are, however, alarmed by reported instances of use of excessive force by Kenyan security forces against demonstrators and other civilians,” they added.
“We urge the incumbent Kenyan authorities to take all necessary steps and measures to bring an end to the present situation, including by addressing appropriately questions raised with regard to the latest election results. We also call upon the leaders of political parties to show restraint and control over their followers and supporters.”
WFP will shortly provide food through the Kenya Red Cross for 100,000 people displaced in the Northern Rift Valley, but it said: “The biggest problem is the difficulty for trucks carrying WFP food to reach areas in western Kenya.”
Some 200 trucks were loaded with WFP food in the Kenyan port of Mombasa from a ship that arrived over Christmas carrying 30,000 metric tons – enough to feed 1.5 million people for a month – for Uganda, southern Sudan, Somalia and the eastern DRC. The food for Somalia will be sent by sea, but the rest has to go by land, WFP said.
Some trucks left Mombasa but then were stranded due to insecurity on main roads and checkpoints set up by vigilantes in western Kenya. Fifteen trucks are stranded in or near Nairobi, 60 in Mombasa and others in Eldoret, near the site of the church massacre. Each truck carries 34 tons of food. “WFP is holding urgent talks to resolve this issue and get food to those who need it in Kenya and elsewhere,” the agency said.
Kenyan security forces recently escorted 20 WFP trucks carrying food for north-western Kenya, southern Sudan, Uganda and the DRC, but the insecurity and roadblocks are still hampering humanitarian access.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is trying to establish so-called “safe spaces” for displaced mothers and children, provide water and sanitation to over 100,000 people, and distribute family kits to supply up to 100,000 people with blankets, plastic sheeting, cooking sets, soap and jerry cans.
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