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Friday, February 1, 2008

US playing musical chairs with ‘ethnic cleansing’ charge

The United States has softened its assessment and response to Kenya’s crisis, with the State Department declining to affirm its top Africa official’s charge that “ethnic cleansing” has been taking place in the Rift Valley. Department spokesman Sean McCormack also told reporters in Washington that the US is reviewing its allocation of “several millions of dollars” in non-humanitarian aid to Kenya.

But McCormack gave no indication that the United States would favour an international move to impose a solution to the problems afflicting Kenya. Pressed on Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer’s “ethnic cleansing” comment earlier this week, he sought to distance the US from a term that, a reporter suggested, might worsen an already “incendiary” situation in Kenya.

Frazer’s statement
The spokesman took pains, however, to avoid repudiating Frazer’s statement in Addis Ababa in the run-up to the Africa Union summit. “I don’t have anything to modify Jendayi’s statement,” McCormack said. He added, “There is evidence that there are individuals that were forced to move out of various areas for a variety of different reasons, some based on ethnicity.” However, Frazer was more specific in Addis Ababa, saying that in the initial round of post-election violence in the Rift Valley, “it was Kalenjin pushing out Kikuyu. But that may now be spreading to Kikuyus pushing out Luos and Kalenjins.” McCormack said Ambassador Clint Williamson is “collecting any information that may indicate any crimes, any atrocities that may have been committed”. Ambassador Williamson’s findings could be used for “bringing to justice those responsible for any atrocities,” McCormack added.

The United States is contemplating reductions in military and counter-terrorism assistance to Kenya, he further indicated. Cuts in Aids treatment programmes, which account for well over half of US aid to Kenya, are not being considered, he added. But he declined to comment on suggestions that the US should refuse to issue visas to Kenyan politicians judged to be stoking conflict in the country. There was also no echo at Frazer’s remark in Addis Ababa that “we’ll find an international mechanism if they can’t find it internally”. McCormack said the United States is “fully supporting” the mediation effort of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

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