Kenya, US fight over travel ban for officials

October 3, 2008 8:32:50 AM PDT
A diplomatic row was brewing Friday between America and Kenya over a potential visa ban for Kenyan officials who oversaw last year's catastrophic elections. More than 1,000 died in clashes following Dec 27's disputed vote, which returned the incumbent president to power by a narrow margin after the opposition's wide lead suddenly evaporated.

Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula says Kenya's 22 electoral commissioners have been threatened with a visa ban after they refused to resign as recommended by a government commission.

"The government will not tolerate what seems now to be a pattern of activism being practiced in Nairobi by a few ambassadors under the guise of conducting their normal diplomatic engagements," Wetangula said.

The U.S. embassy issued a statement Friday saying it did not comment on visa applications. However, the same statement said Kenyans had lost confidence in the commissioners and urged the government to replace the entire electoral board as recommended by a commission of inquiry chaired by a South African judge. The commission was set up as part of a peace deal that brought former opposition leader Raila Odinga into President Mwai Kibaki's government.

The Electoral Commission of Kenya announced Kibaki had won the polls after riot police forcibly ejected journalists from the tallying center. He was hurriedly sworn in less than an hour later as flames and gunfire erupted from angry opposition supporters protesting in the slums. By the time the smoke cleared two month later, over 1,000 people were dead and 600,000 displaced.

"The ECK was responsible for oversight of this process and therefore bear responsibility for way in which it was handled," said the embassy's statement. "Fundamental changes, in every respect, are necessary."

But Wetangula accused the foreign missions of using "shameless blackmail" and having a "colonial mind-set."

Despite the diplomatic spat, Kenya is a strong ally of the U.S., which provides counter terrorism training for its military.

American troops are stationed in northern Kenya near the border with Somalia and Kenya is a major recipient of U.S. aid.


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