Gangs armed with machetes and bows and arrows burned and hacked to death members of a rival tribe in western Kenya Sunday, as the death toll from the latest explosion of violence over disputed presidential elections rose to at least 69. Houses were blazing in the center of Naivasha, a tourist gateway.
Some 55 bodies were counted Sunday at the morgue in Nakuru, the provincial capital where ethnic clashes erupted Thursday night and continued until Saturday. Bodies were still arriving there Sunday, said a morgue attendant who spoke on condition of anonmyity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
A local newspaper reporter saw another five bodies Sunday in two slums on the outskirts of Nakuru.
The fighting spread Sunday to Naivasha 55 miles northwest of Nairobi, where at least nine people were killed, according to the count of a local reporter.
Nearly 800 killed
The latest deaths raise the toll to nearly 800 killed in ethnic violence and clashes with police since President Mwai Kibaki was declared winner of Dec. 27 balloting that international and local observers say was rigged. Some 255,000 people have been forced from their homes.
In Naivasha, groups from Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe set ablaze the homes of Luo rivals in the center of the town. Police, apparently overwhelmed, did not intervene.
A reporter saw the bodies of seven victims hacked to death or burned alive in their homes. On Saturday, a Luo couple were slashed to death with machetes in Naivasha.
Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga, who claims he won the election, remain far apart on how to resolve the crisis, the worst the country has suffered since its 1963 independence from Britain.
Kibaki has said he is open to direct talks with Odinga, but that his position as president is not negotiable. Odinga says Kibaki must step down and new elections are the only way to bring peace.
Meeting with Kofi Annan
On Sunday, Odinga was meeting with former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the latest international mediator attempting to bring the two sides together.
Opposition spokesman Salim Lone said they were asked to name three negotiators for the talks, which he said he would hopefully start "within a week."
Lone said they expected Annan to deliver four documents Sunday night, three outlining terms of reference and rules of engagement and the fourth an agenda for the talks. All were drawn up with input from both sides as well as from civil groups. Both sides might want changes to the documents, he said, but "at least now they are moving toward something concrete."
Annan toured trouble spots Saturday in the western Rift Valley, which includes Naivasha, and alluded to underlying causes of the conflict, including decades-old resentment of Kikuyus' domination of politics and the economy, and old grudges over land between different ethnic groups.
"We cannot accept the pattern every five years these sorts of incidents take place and no one is held to account," Annan said. "Let's not kid ourselves this is an electoral problem. This is much broader."
While ethnic clashes have accompanied past Kenyan elections, the scale of the violence this year has been far worse. It has mainly pitted other ethnic groups, which support the opposition because they feel marginalized, against Kibaki's Kikuyu people.
Kikuyus were the main victims in the initial eruption of violence, with hundreds killed and more than half of those driven from their homes belonging to Kibaki's tribe. Now it appears they are on the war path.
The crisis has destroyed the East African nation's image as a peaceful haven in a region rife with conflict.