Kenyan minister criticizes crisis mediator Annan

NAIROBI Tue Feb 12, 2008 11:53am EST

1 of 4. A man tries to extinguish a fire at a house set ablaze during post-election violence in the outskirts of Molo, west of Nairobi, February 10, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Zohra Bensemra

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NAIROBI (Reuters) - The head of the government team at Kenya's crisis talks criticized chief mediator Kofi Annan on Tuesday, complicating his efforts to bring a swift end to the country's post-election turmoil.

Annan told parliament Kenya should have a political solution this week to its dispute over a December 27 election that triggered clashes that killed 1,000 people and uprooted 300,000 more. He later answered questions in a closed door session.

Justice Minister Martha Karua condemned comments she attributed to Annan -- that negotiators had agreed on a transitional government for two years before a new presidential vote.

"As chair of the panel, you are expected to be impartial and to take every care not to misrepresent or compromise the position of either party," Karua said in a letter addressed to Annan and sent to media organizations.

"To this end, we feel that these inaccuracies have greatly undermined our position and embarrassed us as members of the dialogue team. We demand that the issue be revisited as the first item when we next meet."

Annan's spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

Kenya's closest-ever vote thrust the country into one of its darkest moments since independence in 1963, denting its image as one of Africa's most stable democracies and a peaceful trade and tourism hub.

The crisis laid bare grievances between tribes about wealth, land and power that have existed since British colonial rule -- which most Kenyans believe have been aggravated by politicians over the years.

"GRAND COALITION"

Former U.N. head Annan said Kenya's divided parliament must swiftly endorse wider reforms, adding that both sides had agreed that an independent investigation into the polls would make recommendations to guide electoral reforms.

Expecting a deal within days to end the immediate conflict over President Mwai Kibaki's re-election, Annan was due to take the government and opposition negotiating teams to a secret location outside Nairobi.

"I expect that we shall conclude our deliberations ... resolving the political conflict this week," he said.

Sources on both sides have said the deal would entail some kind of power sharing, and Annan said they were discussing what form it would take -- hinting at a cross-party "grand coalition".

"Grand coalitions have served other nations well ... when you have the sort of urgent political grievances we seem to have here," he said. "They come together to try and work out ... the divisive issues, to make the constitutional and other changes required, and then eventually organize an election."

Annan has said the negotiating teams will tackle those issues in the talks, with the aim of producing concrete reforms over the constitution, land, and election laws within a year.

Both sides, he said, had agreed there was "no immediate, viable way forward either through retallying, recount or an audit" of the election.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga initially demanded that Kibaki step down and the vote be re-run, and refused any kind of power-sharing.

Kibaki urged Odinga to go to court to challenge the vote as Kenya's laws prescribe, and has said he is open to having some opposition members in his cabinet, which is only half-filled.

A senior government official with direct knowledge of the talks said the government will only share power "in the form of cabinet posts to be decided by the president himself".

(For special coverage from Reuters on Kenya's crisis see:

here)

(Additional reporting by Duncan Miriri and Jack Kimball; editing by Keith Weir)

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