Kenya dismisses U.S. travel ban

15:02, October 29, 2009      

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The Kenyan government on Wednesday dismissed as inconsequential a travel ban imposed by the U.S. on a senior Kenyan official and vowed to reciprocate.

Addressing a news conference in Nairobi, Kenyan Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula said the east African nation is not threatened by the travel ban by Washington, terming it meaningless.

Wetangula also described Washington's move which is the second such action within four weeks as "meddlesome" and accused the United States of breaching diplomacy.

"It is with regret that an assistant minister of a friendly country walks into our country uninvited, makes fairly unacceptable and reckless statements and then leaves. It is not right. The statement made by Johnnie Carson is totally out of order," the minister told journalists in Nairobi.

He said the sanctions imposed by the United States will not affect government affairs because officials "in the notorious list can still travel to America to attend UN meetings".

"Kenya like any other independent and sovereign state has options and in diplomacy we have got the doctrine of reciprocity and we shall appropriately reciprocate on all issues that undermine our dignity as a nation," Wetangula warned without disclosing the action Nairobi intends to take against Washington.

The minister maintained that Kenya is at will to send its officials to the United States, regardless of the fact that their visas have been revoked "as long as they are out on a UN mission".

He said Kenya is one of the four countries in the world under the UN charter which host UN agencies and carry an extra obligation just like the United States, Switzerland and Austria.

"So I want to urge our friends that we absolutely respect their right to grant or reject visas to Kenyans going to Washington or any other American city, but when we want to go to the UN, we will go to transact international business under international law," he said.

"If the Kenyan government wants to send a delegation to the UN that includes the three ministers, and 12 other Kenyans who are on the notorious list, those countries that I have mentioned have a duty under the UN charter to let in nationals of any member state to transact business," he said.

The relations between Kenya and the United States worsened on Monday when Washington imposed a travel ban on an unnamed prominent Kenyan official for his obstructing essential reforms in the country.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Affairs Johnnie Carson told a news conference in Nairobi that Washington's action is meant to show its commitment to seeing full implementation of key reforms in the country and stand with Kenyans in their bid to end the culture of impunity.

"Highlighting our seriousness on the need for reforms in Kenya, I am announcing today that the U.S. government has taken the decision to revoke a visa of a senior Kenyan government official who has obstructed the reform process, failed to end the cycle of impunity and has been an obstacle in the fight against corruption," Carson said.

The U.S. diplomat, however, did not give the name of the person banned but promised to reveal his name soon along with three other government officials whose visas are being considered by Washington.

But speaking in Nairobi, Wentagula said the travel ban imposed on the Kenyan official will not affect the relations between the two countries.

"Our relationship with the United States is not based on visa granting and non granting -- they have a lot of strategic interests in this region and we have trade relations with them, and then there are the security challenges and we are fighting piracy together; there are many issues at hand. The visa issue is a drop in the ocean."

Wetangula said the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi has communicated to him and given him details of the government official joining the list of unwanted persons in America but declined to name the person.

"The ambassador has given me the name of the person whose visa has been revoked, but I don't think he has done any thing to warrant that kind of action," he said and declined to disclose the name of the official.

The developments came after Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki wrote a letter to U.S. president Barack Obama, protesting over what he saw as U.S. interference in his government after Washington sent letters to 15 prominent officials warning them of a visa ban if they were seen to be blocking the reform process in Kenya.

"I have checked with all the 15 on the earlier list but none has received any communication from Johnnie Carson," Wetangula said.

The minister said Kenya cannot live in isolation from the rest of the world but "issues Kenyan must be driven by Kenyans".

He said it is Kenya that invited former UN secretary general Kofi Annan amid post-election crisis and Kenyans have a right to give their views on the constitution-making process.

"I know of a minister who has not uttered a word on the reform process yet he is on the U.S. ban list. At the same time there are Kenyans who talk everyday over reforms but they are not on the list," Wetangula said.

It was not clear whether Britain which has previously banned politicians linked to financial scandals and corruption will join Washington in slapping travel ban on the political leaders suspected to be obstructing reforms in the country.

Regional analysts say Monday's statement by the United States is the latest sign of Washington's growing impatience with Kenya's coalition government, which has made little progress on a number of key reforms in almost two years.

The crisis in Kenya was sparked by President Kibaki's disputed re-election on Dec. 27, 2007. Raila Odinga, who was the opposition leader at that time, said the president stole the vote. International observers said the count was so chaotic that it was impossible to tell who won.

About 1,000 people lost their lives while 350,000 people were displaced just in a month at the time as rival communities fought in towns and villages around the country and protesters clashed with security forces.

Source: Xinhua
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