Thursday, February 21, 2008

Kenya's women in white to circle peace talks - 2/21/2008

Kenya's "women in white" to circle peace talks

21 Feb 2008 14:18:06 GMT
By Wangui Kanina

NAIROBI, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Kenyan women wearing white clothes to symbolise peace vowed on Thursday to surround the venue of crisis talks until a solution is found to the east African country's worst turmoil since independence.

Many women and children have been among the victims of post-election violence which has killed at least 1,000 people and forced more then 300,000 from their homes in a country previously seen as one of Africa's most stable.

Cases of rape and sexual violence doubled within days of trouble erupting, according to the United Nations. In refugee camps, traumatised children in makeshift classrooms have been drawing burned houses and beheaded people.

"All of you -- wear your white dresses, carry your food. Tomorrow (Friday) we shall go to peace house," said Violet Mavisi, an activist with the Coalition of Women for Peace and Justice, referring to the Nairobi hotel where talks are ongoing.

"We will circle their cars and make sure that those guys do not come out of there without a peace settlement."

In a possible breakthrough, a government negotiator said on Thursday his team had accepted in principle the creation of a new prime minister's post to accommodate opposition leader Raila Odinga, who says he was robbed of the Dec. 27 vote by fraud.

About 150 of the self-styled "women in white" -- many wearing white scarves and flowing white African robes -- gathered at a Nairobi hotel on Thursday to coordinate plans.

"Just last night, a woman who was displaced gave birth in a police cell, where she had sought refuge," said Rukia Subow, head of Maendelo ya Wanawake (Women's Development) group.

"She is representative of the kind of violence that women are facing in Kenya."

In a statement, the women urged the male-dominated leadership of both government and opposition to ensure a comprehensive political settlement for sustainable peace.

"Kenyan women will accept nothing short of this and we will not relent until there is peace," it said.

Ted Olang, a 53-year-old woman from Odinga's west Kenya homeland, Nyanza, told how a gang burned her home because she backs President Mwai Kibaki.

"I will camp there (Serena) until there is peace," said Olang, who fled Nyanza to take refuge with friends in Nairobi.
"If I was not here I would be an internally displaced person in a camp, and a woman of my stature cannot go there," she said, wearing a green African print dress and gold ornaments.

(Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

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