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Kenya rivals agree to help violence refugees

/ Source: The Associated Press

Kenya said violence over disputed elections had eased enough to lift a monthlong ban on live television broadcasts, while the country's political rivals sat down for new talks Monday despite the withdrawal of a leading mediator.

The fighting has killed more than 1,000 people and made 300,000 homeless since the Dec. 27 presidential election, which foreign and local observers say was rigged. Protests have deteriorated into ethnic clashes, with much of the anger aimed at President Mwai Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe, long resented for dominating politics and the economy.

"The live coverage ban was lifted because the security is better," government spokesman Alfred Mutua told The Associated Press. In late December, he said the ban was implemented to prevent the incitement of violence. Rights groups said it was an attack on free speech.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan brought Kibaki and his chief rival, Raila Odinga, together for more negotiations. The two sides signed a two-page agreement pledging to help people return to their homes safely and provide food and shelter for the displaced.

They also welcomed a U.N. human rights team to investigate the violence, and agreed on the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission.

Both sides have expressed trust in Annan's efforts, but chief mediator Cyril Ramaphosa — Annan's choice — withdrew from the process because of objections by Kibaki's government and ruling party.

Ramaphosa, a South African businessman who played a leading role in talks in his own country to end apartheid, said he could not function as mediator "without the complete confidence" of both parties.

"I thought I should withdraw and go back to South Africa, so I don't become a stumbling block myself," he told reporters outside the hotel where the negotiations were being held.

The government gave no indication of why it objected to Ramaphosa, but in his statement, the South African denied that he had any business dealings with Odinga.

News of his departure came as ethnic fighting flared in western Kenya, scene of some of the worst bloodshed since the election. At least seven people were killed overnight in battles between Kisii and Kalenjin communities in a region 155 miles west of the capital, said district commissioner of Sotik town, Humphrey Nakitare.

Later, hundreds of youths, armed with bows and arrows and machetes, attacked one another in an area where 2,000 people have fled their homes during nine days of clashes, Rift Valley Provincial Commissioner Hassan Noor said. Dozens of houses were burned overnight, witnesses said.

The Kenya Red Cross said the conflict's overall toll stood at more than 1,000 killed and 304,000 homeless, according to spokesman Tony Mwangi.

Annan said he was proud of the negotiation teams but said the next step — resolving the political disputes that set off the conflict — "is going to take hard negotiations, understandably give and take."

On Friday, the two sides said they would complete talks within 15 days on measures to resolve the political crisis, but Annan said it would take up to a year to solve deeper problems.

Both sides continue to talk tough. Kibaki has accused opponents of orchestrating the violence, and Odinga insists Kibaki step down.

Kibaki has said his position as president is nonnegotiable. U.S., British and other officials have suggested the two share power to resolve the crisis.