3 January 2008

South Africa: Local Travellers Told to Delay Kenya Trips

Johannesburg — THE South African high commission in Nairobi has urged South Africans intending to visit Kenya to postpone their trips until the situation in that country has stabilised.

High commissioner Tony Msimanga said in the worst case scenario, SA would collaborate with the "big countries" to mount an evacuation. "We do have our own plans. Usually our military would take over, but it hasn't come to that," he said.

Fears of more rioting resulted from an opposition rally planned for today at Uhuru Park, in central Nairobi. Opposition leader Raila Odinga has urged his supporters to attend the gathering, which the police have banned. "The opposition says it's not a rally but a prayer meeting," said Msimanga.

Kenyans living in SA will also add their voice to the protests by marching to the Kenyan high commission in Pretoria on Tuesday. "We are going to march to the embassy in protest against recent police killings and vote-rigging of the presidential elections," said Tony Ouma, one of the organisers of the march.

Msimanga said though many South African holiday-makers would have already returned home, the high commission was receiving many calls from some of those still in the country. "They have been calling, wanting to know what to do," he said.

Advice given to the concerned holiday-makers was that they should stay indoors and avoid volatile areas such as Mombasa, the coastal capital, as well as Kisumu in the west and Nakuru in the Rift Valley.

In much of these areas there were reports of fuel shortages, bringing public transport almost to a standstill. Witnesses also reported seeing gangs mounting roadblocks to extort money from travellers. Fearing looting, many businesses -- including banks -- had not opened for business.

In Nairobi, tourists have been urged to stay away from the Kibera slum area, which is viewed as an opposition stronghold and the source of some of the violence.

Msimanga said though the actual number of South African tourists in the country was unknown because visiting South Africans did not like to register with the high commission, there were about 350 registered "business expats" and their families.

The violence, so far concentrated in slums and high-density areas, has had a limited effect on Kenya's tourism industry. But Britain has advised its nationals to stay indoors and exercise caution when venturing outside.

Its foreign office also warned against all but essential travel to Mombasa as well as Nairobi. New Zealand is one of the countries warning its citizens against travelling to Kenya.

Joining international calls for the restoration of order, South African foreign affairs spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa said it was important not to contribute to the deterioration of the situation. "It is our hope that the government and the opposition will find it necessary to address the situation to ensure that Kenya returns to normality and peace," he said.

Rioting erupted when President Mwai Kibaki was declared winner for a second term after Sunday's presidential election, which European Union observers described as falling short of international standards.

Urging calm, Kibaki called for a meeting with his rivals in Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement. But on Tuesday, Odinga refused to negotiate, saying he would do so only if Kibaki acknowledged that he had lost the election. With Sapa, BBC

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