African Union chief Kufuor begins Kenya mediation

( dpa ) - Ghanaian President and current African Union (AU) Chairman John Kufuor began Wednesday mediation efforts in Kenya between rival political factions at odds since disputed December 27 presidential elections.

Kufuor met Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and was scheduled to meet later opposition leader Raila Odinga, who has rejected Kibaki's re- election.

Odinga has accused the incumbent of rigging the December polls and the opposition has refused to accept Kibaki's victory.

In a statement from Kibaki's office the Kenyan president said he told Kufuor his highest priority was a resumption of political dialogue and a peaceful solution to the crisis.

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.

Kufuor was previously involved in conflict resolution in Liberia and the Ivory Coast.

Meanwhile Kibaki on Tuesday announced a new cabinet in a surprise move, saying it constituted broad-based leadership from across the political spectrum. Members of Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party were not included in the cabinet.

Odinga has called the formation of the cabinet a "slap in the face."

Kalonzo Musyoka, meanwhile, who was also running against Kibaki in the presidential election and is deputy president and interior minister in the new cabinet, has defended his collaboration with Kibaki on British radio.

There had been flaws in the elections, he told British broadcaster BBC, but he had no doubt that Kibaki was the rightful winner of the elections.

News of the cabinet led to small protests and unrest in Nairobi's slums and in the west of the country, but they were nothing like the scale of protests seen when the elections results were announced.

Post-election violence between supporters of both factions divided along ethnic lines has led to as many as 500 deaths, according to official figures. Aid organizations even think there might be more than 600 casualties.

Some 250,000 people have been displaced within Kenya and are reliant on humanitarian aid.

The German aid body Deutsche Welthungerhilfe said on Wednesday it was supporting around 25,000 refugees who had to leave their villages and home regions after the unrest. The German Foreign Office has made available nearly 300,000 euros (440,000 dollars) in direct aid.

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