The United States threatened Thursday to bar 10 Kenyan politicians and businessmen from entering the U.S., the first time Washington has blamed them for the postelection violence that has brought the African country to the brink of collapse.
Letters were sent to politicians and businessmen with ties to the president's party and the opposition, the U.S. Embassy said.
"What we have said is that people involved in inciting, supporting or perpetrating violence must be held accountable and, for our part, as the United States of America, we will hold them accountable by not providing visas," Ambassador Michael Ranneberger told foreign journalists.
President Mwai Kibaki's Party of National Unity and the opposition Orange Democratic Movement denied being behind the clashes, looting and arson that have caused more than 1,000 deaths and forced 300,000 Kenyans from their homes.
The U.S. announcement came as pressure mounted on negotiators from the rival parties to come to terms in peace talks mediated by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Opposition leaders say Kibaki stole a Dec. 27 vote and should step down. Kibaki has said his position as president is not negotiable, though foreign and local observers say there was election rigging. Clashes sparked by the dispute disintegrated into ethnic fighting pitting other tribes against Kibaki's Kikuyu.
Both sides share blame
Foreign observers have reported evidence of orchestrated violence and accused both sides of fomenting clashes.
In a statement, Kibaki's government welcomed the U.S. decision "to bar people who participated in ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity during the post election period." But his party denied any involvement.
Albert Muiruri, of Kibaki's Party of National Unity said, "I can't think of one PNU member of Parliament or top official who was involved in or incited violence."
Opposition Orange Democratic Movement politicians also were not involved, said party spokesman Ahmed Hashi.
"We categorically deny that any ODM leader was behind any kind of violence anywhere in the country," Hashi said. "ODM leaders condemn anyone who uses violence to push for political agendas."
The U.N. Security Council deplored the violence and urged political leaders to resolve the crisis "through dialogue, negotiation and compromise," in a statement issued in New York on Wednesday. It expressed concern at the "dire humanitarian situation" in the country and gave strong backing to the Annan-led talks that began Jan. 29.
EU Development Commissioner Louis Michel, who met with Kibaki and Odinga, said the European Union expects that "a consensus would be reached on all issues, including addressing the underlying causes of the postelection violence."
Michel urged the rivals to compromise.
'Price for agreement'
"There are strong signals of flexibility and open-minded attitude that gives me a little more optimistic perspective for the future of Kenya," Michel told reporters. "All sides have to make efforts. There is a price for agreement."
Opposition leader Odinga signaled some optimism, telling reporters that the negotiations provided "an opportunity to deal with issues that had been under the carpet for too long, so that we can find a sustainable solution for our country."
A U.N. fact-finding mission arrived in Kenya on Wednesday to look into reports of brutality and serious abuses in the weeks of deadly violence since the disputed election.
The three-week mission — sent by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour — will gather information from the government and the opposition, along with victims and witnesses. The findings will be made public.
The top U.S. diplomat for Africa said last month she saw the violence as ethnic cleansing, but the State Department backed away from her statement, saying the U.S. had not yet concluded whether atrocities had been committed.