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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 January 2008, 10:14 GMT
Fears of Rwanda and Zimbabwe propel pressure
By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent BBC News website

Man stands beside burnt church in Eldoret
The burned church in Eldoret: fears of ethnic cleansing

The crisis in Kenya has prompted a wave of international pressure from governments concerned at the risk of ethnic cleansing and a descent into chaos of what was regarded as one of Africa's more stable political systems.

The twin examples of Rwanda and Zimbabwe provide diplomats with ample incentive to do what they can to stop the spread of violence and resolve doubts over the presidential election.

Strategic interests

The desire is not just humanitarian. The African Union, the US and the EU all have an interest in the stability and development of Kenya. So does China these days.

The AU is hoping to send its chairman, Ghana's President John Kufuor, knowing that Kenya as a model must survive.

Diplomats said they hoped that Mr Kufuor would take the lead role in trying to restore peace and order.

He will, I understand, urge both the declared president Mwai Kibaki and the opposition leader Raila Odinga to make calls for an end to violence by their supporters and to enter a dialogue that could lead to a government of national unity.

(Update Thursday 3 January: President Kufuor's visit is in doubt after comments from Kenyan officials that no outside mediation is needed. Foreign diplomats inside Kenya continue their efforts. The congratulations sent to Mr Kibaki by Uganda's President Museveni will strengthen Mr Kibaki's apparent determination to make the declared result stand.)

A joint statement by the UK and the US on 2 January calling for political leaders to stop the violence and "engage in a spirit of compromise" was left deliberately vague in order not to appear to be dictating terms (even though on Tuesday, the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called openly for the sides to discuss "whether they can come together in government").

The UK is the former colonial power with close ties and some influence there. Kenya is a major destination for British tourists.

For the US, Kenya is one of the battlegrounds against al-Qaeda. The US embassy there was bombed in 1998. Tourist hotels have been attacked and in one incident, an Israeli airliner had missiles fired at it.

Query over election result

The question mark over the election led to a startling comment to the BBC from the British Foreign Secretary David Miliband on Wednesday: "We don't know who won."

The implications of that are huge. It means that Britain at least, and therefore possibly the European Union, will not recognise the right of Mwai Kibaki to the Kenyan presidency.

The United States backtracked when the irregularities in the election counting were revealed by the EU's monitoring team. The state department initially congratulated Kenya for its "largely peaceful and orderly voting" and asked "all candidates to accept the Commission's final results."

Later the spokesman referred to "serious concerns" about the vote and said he "was not offering congratulations to anybody". And finally the US and UK issued their joint statement that pointedly avoids any support for the declared result.

There have been calls for a recount, for example by the new leader of the Liberal Democrats in Britain, Nick Clegg. Others want an investigation into the election count, urged by the head of the EU team, German MEP Alexander Graf Lambsdorff.

We don't know who won
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband

The EU has been slow in adopting a joint position, perhaps overtaken by events and caught in the end of year change in the six monthly presidency between Portugal and Slovenia.

The fact that the British government chose to issue a statement with US says a lot about British priorities and the inability of the EU to respond rapidly to an unexpected international crisis. The more powerful foreign policy representative proposed under the EU treaty might help but even then he or she will have to consult widely among member governments before acting.

Targeted sanctions possible

If the crisis continues, it is probable that there will be calls within the EU for targeted sanctions against Mr Kibaki and his ministers, such as restrictions on travel to EU states.

It is far less likely that aid to Kenya will be slowed or stopped as aid is designed to help the poorest.

The IMF did cut off loans to the Kenyan government in the 1990s because of corruption in the Kenyan government but these were later reinstated.

Nor is military intervention likely unless law and order breaks down completely.

The Commonwealth always has an option to suspend Kenya from its ministerial meetings, as happened with Pakistan.

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