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Thousands flee Kenya, toll tops 300

The US and UK, in their joint statement, call for a halt to the violence and engage in a political and legal process to resolve the crisis.

world Updated: Jan 02, 2008 17:32 IST

Tens of thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes amid brutal post-election violence in Kenya that had claimed at least 300 lives by Wednesday and threatens to descend into full-scale tribal conflict.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband issued a joint statement urging Kenya's political leaders to call for a halt to the violence and engage in a political and legal process to resolve the crisis and ensure a "united and peaceful future" for Kenya.

On Tuesday, at least 35 children and adults sheltering in a church near the western town of Eldoret were burnt alive by an angry mob in one of the worst incidents since the December 27 presidential elections, which were narrowly won by the incumbent Mwai Kibaki amid allegations of vote-rigging by his defeated opposition challenger, Raila Odinga.

The violence is the worst Kenya has witnessed since a failed 1982 coup.

With Kibaki belonging to Kenya's largest tribe, the Kikuyu, and Odinga to the second largest, the Luo, the violence has taken on a distinctly ethnic hue, with tit-for-tat killings and targeted arson attacks.

"What I saw was unimaginable and indescribable," said the director of the Kenyan Red Cross, Abbas Gullet, after visiting several of the worst hit areas of western Kenya yesterday. "This is a national disaster," he said.

"From the area we visited today there are roughly about 70,000 (displaced)."

Aerial video footage taken by the humanitarian group showed hundreds of houses on fire, farms set ablaze and road blocks every 10 kilometres (six miles).