ICC prosecutor OK with delay to trial of Kenyans

UNITED NATIONS Wed May 16, 2012 5:08pm EDT

Former Kenyan Cabinet Minister William Ruto stands inside his house after hearing the news from the International Criminal Court, in Nairobi January 23, 2012. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

Former Kenyan Cabinet Minister William Ruto stands inside his house after hearing the news from the International Criminal Court, in Nairobi January 23, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Goran Tomasevic

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UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor said on Wednesday he would not oppose a delay to the start of a trial of four prominent Kenyans, including two leading presidential hopefuls, accused of fuelling post-election violence in 2007.

The group, including former Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and former Higher Education Minister William Ruto, are charged with masterminding the bloodshed that killed more than 1,200 people. All have said they are innocent.

Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told a news conference in New York that the defendants had requested the delay until the ICC decided whether to grant their appeal, which argues that the war crimes court has no jurisdiction to prosecute them.

Moreno-Ocampo said that his office "did not oppose the right to postpone the beginning of the trial until the appeal chamber solved the claim presented by the defendants."

No specific date had been set for the trial. The ICC will decide whether to grant the request to delay the trial.

Kenyatta and Ruto, who are charged with directing mobs to commit violence that sent Kenya to the brink of civil war, are both challenging for the country's presidency in elections due by March 2013 - the first since the 2007 polls.

An ICC trial was the biggest threat for a repeat of unrest at the 2013 vote, Kenya's electoral head said last month. There is concern that, if the men stand trial and are blocked from running for office, it may trigger violence.

Past opinion polls have shown strong public support for the ICC cases and many Kenyans feel their own judicial system lacks the will to tackle a culture of impunity, where the powerful are often seen as above the law.

"We take note in Kenya that many citizens are requesting that the court proceed with the trial as soon as possible in order to define the responsibility of the suspects before the elections which are planned for March 13," Moreno-Ocampo said.

But he warned Kenyans that it was not the job of the ICC to determine who could stand for election.

"The court should not define who are the candidates in Kenya to the next elections or who will win the next election," Moreno-Ocampo said. "The Kenya political situation should be dealt with politically, by political actors. They cannot expect the court to define the political situation in Kenya."

The other men charged with Kenyatta and Ruto are radio presenter Joshua arap Sang and the head of the civil service, Francis Muthaura.

(Editing by Eric Beech)

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