Kenya Opposition Urges African Union to Send Peacekeepers to Help Quell Violence

Kenya's opposition leader on Sunday called for the African Union to send peacekeepers to help stem violence sparked by the country's disputed presidential election.

"The AU should bring in peacekeepers because the violence in Kenya is appalling," Raila Odinga told The Associated Press with his wife at his side at his family home in Bondo, a village in western Kenya.

Western Kenya has been at the center of fighting that has killed more than 800 people and engulfed the country since the Dec. 27 election, which returned President Mwai Kibaki to power after a tally that foreign and local observers say was rigged. The violence has often degenerated into ethnic clashes over decades-old grudges about land and resources, with much of the anger -- and attacks -- aimed at Kikuyu, who are resented for their long domination of politics and the economy.

On Sunday, gangs with machetes and arrows were facing off in the western town of Sotik, and smoke billowed into the sky from burning houses. A day earlier, young men from rival ethnic groups hunted each other through the streets of another western town, Eldoret, burning houses and blocking roads.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan brokered a deal between Kibaki and Odinga on Friday laying out a plan to end the violence before moving onto the tougher political issues at the root of the fighting. Annan said it should take two weeks to decide the immediate crisis and up to a year for the deeper problems.

The agreement calls for illegal militias to be disbanded and for investigation of all crimes connected to the violence, including those allegedly committed by the police, who have killed scores of people.

Both men who signed Friday's deal were still talking tough. Kibaki accused his opponents of orchestrating the violence, and Odinga said Kibaki's "aggressive statements" were undermining efforts to quell the fighting.

With the two sides trading blame, as they have done repeatedly since the outset of the crisis, the fighting has continued unabated.

A Pentecostal church in Eldoret was burned this weekend, and only smoldering ruins were left by Saturday. The pastor's nephew, Peter Ndungu, said the church was burned because his aunt was from Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe.

Terrified Kenyans, meanwhile, were pouring into camps for the displaced. The violence since the Dec. 27 election has forced 300,000 from their homes.

"It's unpredictable," said 28-year-old Joseph Njoroge, a Kikuyu, as he strained to push a cart piled high with furniture along a road lined by burnt-out homes and businesses.

Men armed with bow and arrows came to his house, threatening to kill him in retaliation for the slaying of an opposition lawmaker Thursday. Police say that killing -- the second of an opposition lawmaker in a week -- was tied to a love triangle, but opposition supporters say it was political.

"There's no way you can stay and wait for those guys to come back," Njoroge said.

In the nearby town of Kericho, gangs of young men from the Kalenjin, Kikuyu and Kisii tribes hunted each other, setting homes ablaze and blockading roads with burning tires, said a police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

Police who did manage to get near Kericho found themselves outmanned and overwhelmed, even after being reinforced by paramilitary officers, the officer said, adding that one mob had stolen four guns with ammunition during running battles with police the day before.

Early Saturday in the same town, Kalenjin youths killed four Kikuyu civilians and a policeman, said the officer.

In the town of Keroka -- which lies along the line dividing Kalejin territory from Kisii lands -- police fired tear gas to disperse Kisii youths who blocked roads with burning debris and shouted that the Kalenjin must leave or risk death, said another officer, who refused to be named because he was not authorized to speak with media.