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Monday, August 30, 2010

Raila calls Bashir's invitation "ill advised"


Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga said it was ill-advised that Sudan’s embattled President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir was invited to participate in the promulgation of Kenya’s constitution last Friday. 

In an exclusive interview with VOA, Prime Minister Odinga said that the Sudanese leader should be held accountable for the crimes committed under his rule. “You know, I’m on record as having said that President Bashir needs to answer for the crimes that were committed under his charge and, if only he has been cleared by the ICC (International Criminal Court), that he should be allowed to attend any, or other, meetings of heads of state. So, my position has not changed at all,” he said.

U.S President Barack Obama expressed disappointment that Kenya hosted Mr. Bashir in defiance of the International Criminal Court arrest warrants issued against him alleging war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. In a statement, Mr. Obama said Kenya’s government “has committed itself to full cooperation with the ICC, and we consider it important that Kenya honour its commitments to the ICC and to international justice, along with all nations that share those responsibilities. In Kenya, and beyond, justice is a critical ingredient for lasting peace.”

Former U.N Secretary General Kofi Annan expressed surprise and joined the international community in questioning President Bashir’s participation in the public celebration of Kenya’s new constitution. Some officials in Kenya’s coalition government also condemned the Sudanese leader’s participation after accusing some within the Kenyan administration of keeping his visit under tight wraps. A group of Kenyans also demonstrated demanding Mr. Bashir’s arrest. Local media reported that some European Union envoys, as well as human rights activists, boycotted the state luncheon following the promulgation of the new constitution to protest President Bashir’s attendance.

Prime Minister Odinga said he was demanding answers from his party’s partner in the unity government adding that they were surprised when Mr. Bashir’s name was mentioned during the ceremony. “I have said we want a proper explanation as to how this was done and why we were not informed that Mr. Bashir was going to come because we are a partner in a coalition and we had agreed on a list of guests who were supposed to be invited to the ceremony and (Mr.) Bashir was not one of them,” Prime Minister Odinga said.

But Foreign Minister, Moses Wetang’ula, was quoted as saying President Bashir was invited alongside other heads of state from neighboring countries “because it was in Kenya’s best interests that Sudan gets lasting peace.”

Prime Minister Odinga said the country would have to apologize to the international community over Mr. Bashir’s invitation and participation. “Over issues like this there must be proper and thorough consultation before anything like this happens. And, we also want an apology made to the international community, particularly ICC, because we are a signatory and party to the Rome Statute,” Prime Minister Odinga said.

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Meanwhile, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir held talks with President Kibaki and other visiting heads of state after the promulgation of the new Constitution on Friday. But he declined to join the rest of the guests for a luncheon at State House and instead, headed straight to the airport.

Cabinet ministers said Mr Bashir, a Muslim, excused himself saying he was fasting. Muslims worldwide are observing one month of fasting, Ramadhan.

“They held a round-table sort of meeting, all of them were there, including Museveni, Kagame, Karume and the others,” said one minister.

“He announced he could not join us for lunch because he was fasting,” said a source who declined to be named because of the visit’s controversy.

The details emerged as the government tried to defend its decision to invite the Sudanese leader, who has a warrant of arrest for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity, and on charges of genocide in Sudan’s western province of Darfur.

Kenya, a signatory to the treaty which set up the ICC, is obliged to arrest Mr Bashir. Foreign Affairs assistant minister Richard Onyonka said Kenya invited Mr Bashir and Southern Sudanese President Salva Kiir in the spirit of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement which will culminate in a referendum in that country in January.

The sources said chief mediator Kofi Annan, who has condemned Kenya for hosting Mr Bashir, was not at State House during the heads of state meeting and only joined other dignitaries at the luncheon after the Sudanese leader had left. Bashir arrived and left through Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on Friday morning and signed the visitors’ book for world leaders who come into the country.

On Sunday, a leading political consultant warned that Kenya could suffer dire consequences for the visit. “The consequences are dire because we risk being branded a rogue democracy condoning injustices in Darfur. It will cost us a lot to rebrand Kenya,” said Prof Peter Kagwanja, who heads the Africa Policy Institute.

“My appeal to the international community is to understand Kenya’s predicament of trying to promote regional peace and stability and our commitment to the Rome Statute. The coming of Bashir was part of the engagement by the government to promote regional peace and stability, which is part of our mandate as a regional power, but his invitation brought a collision of two issues, Kenya’s obligation to bring peace in the region and its obligations to the Rome Statute,” he said.

Already, the International Criminal Court has reported Kenya to the UN Security Council. The Security Council is yet to respond to a previous ICC notification that Sudan itself was not cooperating with the court. It is not clear it will do so now and reprimand Kenya.

A source familiar with ICC investigations into the 2008 post-election violence said a senior officer, Mr Emergi Rogogier was in Kenya last week to gauge the government’s commitment to arresting the violence masterminds. It is unlikely he will return a positive verdict after Mr Bashir’s visit.

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