Thursday, February 7, 2008

Action on Kenya

News that the United States has threatened to revoke the visas of eight Kenyans, including four politicians, adds a new wrinkle to the political and social crisis engulfing the East African nation. Until now, the United States has used its influence to pressure the parties involved in the dispute to negotiate a solution to the six-week crisis that has resulted in more than 1,000 deaths and 300,000 refugees. Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is leading international mediation efforts. But letters sent Feb. 5 by the U.S. embassy in Nairobi informed four as yet unnamed politicians and four business leaders that their freedom to travel to the United States could be blocked because of suspicions about their exacerbating the tribal violence that threatens the very future of Kenya. It apparently marked the first time the United States has moved toward assessing blame for the crisis, at least publicly. "It's a very clear warning to them that their actions have put them in jeopardy of losing their visas," State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Wednesday in testimony before a subcommittee of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. "We are going to continue to evaluate these cases over the next few days here to see whether in fact they ought to have their visas revoked." Violence erupted in Kenya after its Dec. 27 presidential election in which President Mwai Kibaki was re-elected after a disputed vote count. Challenger Raila Odinga of the Orange Democratic Movement claimed the election was stolen and his followers took the streets in protest. Police fired on the protesters in Nairobi, Kenya's capital, and the violence has spread to areas around the country, particularly the formerly peaceful Rift Valley, a tourist mecca. Casey also addressed the election dispute in his testimony, and said a recount would not be possible because a large portion of the paper ballots were destroyed. In another development Thursday, Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer called for an "impartial and independent investigation" into who incited the violence in Kenya in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations African Affairs subcommittee, according to the Reuters international news service.

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