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Kenya pushes back over war crimes suspect's visit

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Kenya's first obligation is to the African Union, not the International Criminal Court, it says
  • The Sudanese president is accused of war crimes and genocide
  • The International Criminal Court has protested to the U.N. Security Council
  • Kenya and the African Union say the Security Council has not acted on its own obligations
  • Kenya
  • Sudan
  • Omar al-Bashir

Nairobi, Kenya -- The Kenyan government Thursday defended its decision not to arrest Sudan's visiting head of state -- wanted on charges of war crimes and genocide -- saying Kenya's first obligation was to the African Union, not the International Criminal Court.

"We need African solutions to Africa's problems," said government spokesman Alfred Mutua.

The court wants Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to face a raft of charges related to the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan.

He was in Kenya on Friday to attend the signing ceremonies for Kenya's new constitution. The ICC argues that Kenya had a legal obligation to arrest him and hand him over for trial.

But Kenyan government spokesman Mutua disagreed.

"In the context of Omar al-Bashir's case, Kenya's obligation was first to the AU and then to ICC. If Sudan (is) destabilized it is us who would suffer, not the West," he said.

The African Union opposes the arrest warrants for al-Bashir, saying his arrest could destabilize Sudan.

And he accused to "the West" of "neo-colonialism."

"We need to change our thinking from neo-colonialism," he said. "The West cares about themselves first. We also need to care about ourselves first."

The United Kingdom summoned Kenya's ambassador to London Wednesday to complain that Kenya had not arrested al-Bashir, its Foreign Office said.

"We made clear that the British government expects the government of Kenya to stand by its obligations under the Rome Statute (that established the ICC), and as a U.N. member state," Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said Wednesday.

"I am disappointed that President Bashir of Sudan last week travelled to Kenya in defiance of International Criminal Court arrest warrants for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide," he said.

The International Criminal Court has protested to the U.N. Security Council about al-Bashir's visit, which was to mark the implementation of the new Kenyan constitution.

The Sudanese leader is wanted by the court in The Hague, Netherlands, on allegations of war crimes and genocide in western Sudan's Darfur region, where violence that erupted in 2003 has left at least 300,000 people dead.

Kenya and the African Union say that the U.N. Security Council has not acted on a request to defer proceedings against al-Bashir for one year.

However, Dennis Onyango, a spokesman for Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, said Tuesday the prime minister believed the invitation was a bad idea.

"The prime minister is against the invitation because Omar al-Bashir has been indicted by the ICC and Kenya is a signatory to the court. It sends wrong signals in regard to Kenya's commitment to the ICC and also Kenya's respect for human rights," said Onyango.

Human Rights Watch criticized Kenya for allowing al-Bashir to enter the country, saying that the wanted leader's presence would "forever tarnish the celebration of its long-awaited constitution."

Pro-government militias known as the Janjaweed stand accused of ethnic cleansing in Sudan's Darfur region. Al-Bashir has denied that he helped armed the militias.

Al-Bashir has traveled to several countries since the warrant was issued, including a recent trip to Chad, which is also an ICC signatory. The International Criminal Court protested that visit.

Journalist Lillian Leposo contributed to this report.