( dpa ) - Ghanaian president and current African Union (AU) Chairman John Kufuor was expected in Kenya Tuesday to assist in mediation efforts between rival political factions at odds since disputed December 27 elections.
Kufuor, who has previously been involved in conflict resolution in Liberia and the Ivory Coast, was expected to hold initial talks with opposition leader Raila Odinga on Wednesday. Odinga has accused incumbent Mwai Kibaki of rigging the December polls, and the opposition has refused to accept Kibaki's victory. Kenya has been riven by post-election violence between supporters of both factions divided along ethnic lines, with police estimating as many as 500 deaths. More than a quarter of a million people have been forced to leave their homes in Kenya in the past three months, 100,000 of them following post-election violence since New Year, the United Nations said Tuesday quoting official sources. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNHCR) said the security situation remained tense with people still on the move particularly in and around the flashpoints of Eldoret and Kericho in the east of the country.
The UNHR, which already provides assistance to 270,000 refugees who have fled to Kenya from elsewhere in Africa, said it had sent an emergency team to help deal with this new crisis.
The Geneva-based UN humanitarian agencies said Kenya was a major hub for relief operations throughout the eastern Horn of Africa including southern Sudan, northern Uganda and Somalia. Stability and calm in Kenya were vital to their operations in the region, they said.
Up to 3,000 Kenyans are said to have crossed into neighbouring Uganda in the past few days. The International Organisation for Migration said along with the Kenya Red Cross it was preparing a temporary camp at Eldoret to shelter between 10,000 and 30,000 internally displaced people.
Kibaki has invited Odinga and other opposition figures to reconciliation talks planned for Friday. Odinga has said he will only speak to Kibaki with Kufuor present as mediator. A spokesman for Odinga's Orange Democracy Movement (ODM), when announcing the cancellation of a "million-man" rally scheduled for Tuesday, said the party did not want demonstrations during mediation talks.
Mediation efforts have also been conducted in the past week by South African Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu and top US envoy for Africa Jendayi Frazer.