Violence in Kenya's Rift Valley is aimed at pushing people out of the region, an organized effort the U.S. envoy to the east African country called "ethnic cleansing."

kenya-cp-4251650

A Kenyan man sits in the cab of a destroyed truck used as a makeshift roadblock while a tire burns on the roof as he and others enforce the roadblock in Kisumu, Kenya, on Tuesday. ((Ben Curtis/Associated Press))

Jendayi Frazer made the comment while speaking to reporters Wednesday at an African Union summit in Addis Ababa about her visit to the Rift Valley earlier this month.

"There has been an organized effort to push out people from Rift Valley," said Frazer. "It is clearly ethnic cleansing. I don't consider it genocide."

"The aim originally was not to kill, it was to cleanse, it was to push them out of the region," she said.

"The cycle of retaliation has gone too far and has become more dangerous."

Violence in Kenya has flared since the results of a disputed presidential election were announced on Dec. 27, sending the incumbent Mwai Kibaki back to office. Supporters of his rival, Raila Odinga, claim he won the vote.

At least 850 people have been killed in post-election violence and more than 250,000 displaced. More than 100,000 of those are members of Kibaki's Kikuyu people who fled their homes in the Rift Valley.

Kikuyus are Kenya's largest ethnic group, making up about 22 per cent of the population of 38 million. Two of the three presidents since independence were Kikuyu, and their domination of politics and the economy is deeply resented.

UN warning

On Tuesday, the United Nations special adviser on preventing genocide and mass atrocities warned Kibaki and Odinga they could be held responsible for the election-related violence, said a report.

Francis Deng told Reuters he was sending a representative to Kenya to report on the situation so he could brief UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Deng told Reuters he wasn't yet ready to apply the term "genocide" to Kenya, but warned "the kind of atrocities we're seeing could easily escalate."

Violence flared again Tuesday after an opposition MP was shot and killed at his suburban Nairobi home. At least a dozen people were killed in the subsequent violence.

In the Rift Valley, scene of the worst violence, thousands of people set homes ablaze, smashed shop windows to loot goods and set up blazing roadblocks where they hunted for rival tribespeople.

Mediation efforts

Police helicopters fired rubber bullets into a mob of Kikuyus who were preventing hundreds of ethnic Luos from leaving a refugee camp in the Rift Valley town of Naivasha.

Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan is in the capital, Nairobi, to head mediation efforts. Annan said he believed the "immediate issues" between Kibaki and Odinga can be resolved within four weeks. A full plan to resolve deep-rooted problems within Kenya's rival tribes will take about a year to develop, he said.

While Wednesday marks the first full day of talks in the capital, it's not clear what is on the agenda, said CBC reporter David McGuffin.

The formal opening of the talks was delayed for more than an hour Tuesday after the two sides wrangled over where Kibaki would sit at the head table, said McGuffin. Kibaki's chair was physically moved three times before the ceremony could begin, he said.

With files from the Associated Press