May 29, 2011 / 1:14 PM / 8 years ago

ICC prosecutor hits Kenya for trying to stop trials

* Says campaign to halt probe sending wrong signals

* ICC officials due in Kenya for talks on witness protection

By Aaron Gray-Block

AMSTERDAM, May 29 (Reuters) - The International Criminal Court prosecutor has accused Kenyan government officials of creating a “climate of fear” through a campaign to halt the ICC’s probe into the country’s post-election violence.

ICC prosecutors have accused six political and business figures of involvement in the 2007-08 violence that killed more than 1,200 people. All six say they are innocent of the charges.

Kenya’s government has challenged the admissibility of the ICC case, arguing it could take equivalent court action. Last month the U.N. Security Council shelved a request by Kenya to defer the ICC proceedings against the six. [ID:nN08165225]

ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said on Sunday that campaigns to stop the ICC cases were sending the wrong signal and promoting a growing climate of fear that is intimidating potential witnesses and undermining national and international investigations.

“My question to the Kenyan government is this: does the government of Kenya want justice for the victims? We need an unequivocal answer, an answer that Kenyans and the world could understand,” Moreno-Ocampo said in a statement.

“Is the government of Kenya protecting witnesses or protecting the suspects from investigation? That is the question.”

The accused are Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, Cabinet Secretary Francis Muthaura, Postal Corporation chief Hussein Ali, suspended government ministers William Ruto and Henry Kosgey, and radio executive Joshua Arap Sang.

The ICC will hold hearings in September to determine whether the six should be ordered to stand trial.

Moreno-Ocampo said a team from his office was due in Kenya on Monday to discuss the matter of witness protection with government officials.

Last year, the ICC warned that it would request arrest warrants for anyone who tried to threaten witnesses involved in the cases, or their families, and that it was taking steps to identify those responsible for intimidation. [ID:nLDE6B21LG]

Death threats previously made to some witnesses and their relatives have compelled the ICC to move some key witnesses out of the country.

“Since we announced the names of the six suspects we have seen a shift in position: high ranking members of the government are misrepresenting ICC efforts to do justice for the victims as an attack against Kenyan sovereignty,” Moreno-Ocampo said.

Past opinion polls in Kenya have shown strong public support for the ICC cases. Many feel the government’s quest to thwart the ICC signals a lack of political appetite among leaders to tackle an entrenched culture of impunity. (Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by David Cowell)

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