Kenya Dominates Opening of African Summit

The political turmoil in Kenya has been the central theme at the opening session of an African Union summit in Addis Ababa. VOA's Peter Heinlein reports U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon leaves Friday for Nairobi to join efforts to calm Kenya's ethnic tensions.

"Sadly I have to start the substance of my address with the reminder of alarming developments in Kenya," Ban said. "More than 800 people have already lost their lives in the increasingly ethnic clashes triggered by the aftermath of recent elections."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was one of several persons expressing such sentiments in speeches at the opening session of the African Union summit. It was awkward, since Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki was sitting stoically in the audience, like a man in the dock.

Mr, Kibaki came to Nairobi against the advice of many who thought he might be better off staying at home in light of the ethnic violence gripping his country. His rival in December's disputed election, Orange Democratic Movement leader Raila Odinga, was refused the opportunity to attend, and party leaders had accused the African Union of favoring Mr. Kibaki in the election dispute.

Secretary-General Ban, however, treated both equally, reminding them of their responsibility to halt the violence.

"Kenyan leaders, President Kibaki and ODM leader Raila Odinga in particular, have a special responsibility to do everything possible to resolve the sources of the crisis peacefully," Ban said.

African Union Commission chairperson Alpha Oumar Konare said he was uncomfortable bringing up Kenya's ethnic violence in front of President Kibaki. He called it tragic that a beacon of stability on the continent had descended into ethnic cleansing. He asked the assembly, "If Kenya burns, what is next?"

Despite a summit-eve statement by U.S. Undersecretary of State Jendayi Frazer that the killings in Kenya do not amount to genocide, Mr. Konare, former president of Mali, repeated his earlier warning that genocide could take place.

"Kenya has been one of the countries that was the hope for the continent. But today, if you look at Kenya, you see violence on the streets, and we are even talking about ethnic cleansing, we are talking of genocide in that country," he said.

Shortly after the session ended, Mr. Ban announced he would fly to Nairobi Friday to join efforts to calm the ethnic and political tensions.

"Clashes are growing along ethnic lines. If political leaders fail to act responsibly, in the interest of all Kenyan people, the situation could escalate beyond control," he said. "I will meet with President Kibaki here. Tomorrow I will go to Nairobi, to give my full support to the panel of eminent African persons led by my predecessor, former SG Kofi Annan. I will meet Mr. Odinga."

Speaking to reporters, the U.N. chief said "I call on the Kenyan people, stop the killing and end the violence now before it is too late."

Kenya is expected to be a continuing theme during the three-day summit, though Darfur, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Comoros Islands are also receiving attention.

About 40 heads of state and government are attending the three-day gathering at the headquarters of the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa.

The theme of the summit is "Industrialization in Africa", and several events are devoted to the subject of unleashing the power of private industry to generate a hoped-for African economic boom.