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Kerry arrives in Kenya to end years of frosty relations

03 May 2015, 16:30

Nairobi - US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Kenya on Sunday for talks on security cooperation and ahead of US President Barack Obama's visit to his late father's home country.

The trip to the east African nation is the first high-level visit since 2012, and comes after years of tensions surrounding Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta being charged by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

The ICC has since abandoned the case against Kenyatta over his alleged role in the 2007-2008 post-election violence, citing a lack of evidence and Kenya's failure to cooperate -- somewhat removing Kenyatta's pariah status.

"We've had a long relationship with Kenya that goes back more than 50 years, and we have had continuous economic and cultural ties with the Kenyans, and this has never ended. So this trip is not about making amends," a State Department official said.

"It's about reinforcing and deepening the relationship that we have had with Kenya, and it's also partially in preparation for President Obama's trip that's going to take place at the end of July."

Kerry arrived from Sri Lanka on Sunday afternoon, and leaves on Tuesday, He is lined up for talks with Kenyatta and other senior officials.

The fight against Somalia's Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab militants will feature high on the agenda, with Kenya struggling to stop increased cross-border attacks by the militants even though it has thousands of troops in southern Somalia.

Last month Shebab gunmen massacred close to 150 people, mostly students, in a raid on Garissa University in Kenya's northeast.

The raid followed a string of other massacres in the northeast and Muslim-majority coastal areas, and after the September 2013 siege of the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi which left at least 67 dead.

"We think the Kenyans are doing their best. Fighting terrorism is tough, and particularly fighting it in this region is very tough," the State Department official said.

"Kenya has been the victims of multiple attacks - the Garissa attack starkly illustrated the extent to which al-Shebab can have an impact on innocent civilians. And so we will be looking at additional ways that we may be able to support the Kenyan efforts to fight al-Shebab."

Diplomats said Kerry would nevertheless raise human rights issues with Kenyatta, whose government has been accused of clamping down on civil society groups and the press.

The top US diplomat will also meet Kenyan opposition leaders and rights activists.

"We continue to express our concerns to the Kenyan government. The ICC case against President Kenyatta has ended, but we have also continued to say that the issues that came out of that election must be addressed," the US official said.

"We will be meeting with civil society organisations. We will be encouraging the Kenyans to look at their civil society laws and to ensure that their laws are not putting undue pressure on civil society... We will be encouraging the government to respect civil society, to also respect the rights of the press," the official added.

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