The death toll from Kenya's post-election bloodletting has risen to 1,000, the Red Cross said on Tuesday, as political rivals began the toughest part of their negotiations so far.

Fighting in west Kenya in recent days between rival ethnic gangs had increased the number of deaths, the Red Cross said.

One thousand plus have died since the conflict started, Red Cross head Abbas Gullet told a conference in Nairobi.

Most of the deaths, in one of Kenya's darkest moments since independence from Britain 44 years ago, have come from cycles of ethnic killings, police clashes with protesters, and looting.

What started as a dispute over the December 27 re-election of President Mwai Kibaki has laid bare decades-old divisions over land, wealth and power, dating from colonial rule then stoked by Kenyan politicians.

Some 304,000 Kenyans have been displaced by the crisis, the Red Cross said, though that figure was likely to rise.

The internal humanitarian crisis is a shock to Kenyans, more used to receiving refugees from neighboring hot-spots like Somalia, Sudan and Ethiopia. The troubles have also badly damaged Kenya's image as a stable and promising economy.

Under the mediation of former U.N. chief Kofi Annan, the government and opposition agreed on Monday on principles to stem the violence and help those displaced.

On Tuesday, they began agenda item number three -- the political crisis arising from the disputed presidential electoral results.

That is the toughest matter to be resolved by Kibaki's government and Raila Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) within a mid-February deadline given by Annan.

We all have a responsibility to get Kenya back from the brink, Annan told business leaders in Nairobi before going to the talks. No society can remain prosperous without the rule of law and human rights. Let your leaders know that you want peace and stability. Keep your voices high.


Odinga says Kibaki stole the vote, but the president points to his declaration as winner by the electoral board.

International observers said the count was so chaotic it was impossible to tell who won.

Increasing evidence is emerging that the violence was not all a spontaneous reaction to the election, but that local politicians and elders had planned and directed some of it.

Certain people incited others. There needs to be an impartial investigation, Michael Ranneberger, U.S. envoy to Kenya, said in a newspaper interview published on Tuesday.

A lot of violence was planned and organized, but it would have occurred no matter who won, because it took the dimension of land disputes, he told the Standard.

Washington, and some other Western powers, are considering travel bans against some Kenya politicians for stirring violence or violating democratic norms, diplomats say.

While the Annan team wants immediate issues resolved fast, it has set a year's deadline for the resolution of underlying issues like constitutional reform, settling land differences, and tackling poverty.

The crisis has battered the economy.

Hotels stand empty in the $1 billion a year tourism industry, Kenya's position as the leading exporter of cut flowers to Europe is under threat, and transport routes to landlocked African neighbors have been disrupted.

The violence and election dispute have also tarnished the democratic credentials of a nation previously seen as a bulwark of stability and a peacemaker in turbulent east Africa.