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Bush starts Africa trip with call for Kenya deal

President Bush began a visit to Africa on Saturday with a call for a power sharing agreement in Kenya to end the post-election conflict there that has killed 1,000 people.
Image: President George W. Bush.
President Bush takes part in a ceremony upon his arrival at Cadjehoun International Airport in Cotonou, Benin, Saturday.Jim Young / Reuters
/ Source: Reuters

President Bush began a visit to Africa on Saturday with a call for a power sharing agreement in Kenya to end the post-election conflict there that has killed 1,000 people.

Bush, whose five-nation trip does not include Kenya, is sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Nairobi on Monday to back mediation efforts between Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and his opponents by former United Nations chief Kofi Annan.

U.S. officials stressed that Rice's trip was intended to back, not upstage, Annan's efforts in Kenya. But they warned the United States was ready to sanction any individuals who sought to obstruct the peace moves in the East African state.

"Kenya's an issue ... that's why I'm sending Secretary Rice there to help with the Kofi Annan initiative," Bush told reporters after arriving in Benin on the first stop of his six-day tour, his second to the world's poorest continent.

Rice's mission was "all aimed at having a clear message that there be no violence and that there ought to be a power sharing agreement," Bush said after holding talks with Benin President Thomas Boni Yayi in a brief stopover at Cotonou airport.

He later left for Tanzania, the next stop on a tour that will also take him to Rwanda, Ghana and Liberia.

Kenya's turmoil
Former U.N. Secretary-General Annan is trying to end turmoil in Kenya over the disputed December 27 election that has also uprooted 300,000 people, plunging East Africa's biggest economy into its most turbulent episode since independence in 1963.

The top U.S. diplomat for Africa, Jendayi Frazer, stressed that Rice's trip to Kenya would back Annan's role.

"Right now, we don't want to supplant Kofi Annan's mediation," she said, briefing reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Tanzania. "President Bush does not need to go to Kenya at this point," Frazer added.

She said she believed that Kenyan President Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga had both understood they had to find a credible lasting solution to the dispute.

"Any individuals ... seen as obstructing the effort for a peace process, a power sharing agreement, the president stated, will be subject to possible further sanctions by the U.S.," said Frazer, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.

Bush, who was accompanied by his wife Laura, is avoiding Africa's conflict hotspots and visiting five states carefully chosen to show a different face from the poverty-plagued and war-stricken continent normally portrayed by the world's media.

New generation
The presidents of Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana and Liberia are viewed by Washington as a new generation of democratic African leaders and the United States is backing them with health and education support and also some military cooperation.

But the crises in Kenya and Sudan's Darfur still loom large.

Speaking in Cotonou, Bush reiterated U.S. backing for the African Union/United Nations peacekeeping force being deployed in the western Sudanese region of Darfur, where political and ethnic conflict since 2003 has killed around 200,000 people.

"No question, Sudan is a real difficult situation which we have labeled a genocide ... We are sanctioning some, rallying others to provide aid in the hopes there will be a robust U.N. force in Darfur to help relieve the suffering," Bush said.

He added the U.S. was ready to "help facilitate" the movement of the peacekeeping force for Darfur.

Bush said he had also been speaking with President Hu Jintao of China — the main backer of oil-rich Sudan — about "the need for us to act collaboratively on Darfur."

Earlier, Bush was presented by Yayi with the Grand Cross of the National Order of Benin, the country's highest award.

Bush praised Yayi's fight against corruption and said the U.S. government was willing to reduce farm subsidies -- West African cotton growers say U.S. subsidies ruin their business -- as long as other states granted market access for U.S. products.

Commenting on Rice's trip to Kenya, a senior U.S. official said that while some issues in the peace process were resolved, the power sharing deal will "take a little bit more time."

Annan has said that considerable progress was made this week, including agreement for an independent review of the polls. He is also seeking constitutional and electoral reforms.

The former U.N. chief will meet President Kibaki and opposition leader Odinga on Monday — Rice is due in Kenya on that day — before negotiations resume on Tuesday.

Bush's visit to Africa will showcase U.S. projects backing hospitals, schools and anti-AIDS and anti-malaria initiatives considered a success in a Bush foreign policy scarred by controversy over his handling of Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.