NAIROBI Kenya's foreign minister summoned European Union ambassadors on Monday after Britain, France and others said they would have only limited contact with one presidential candidate, who is wanted by the war crimes court, if he wins the March 4 vote.
The minister accused the envoys of stoking tensions and attempting to divide the country ahead of the elections by making remarks last week that "are clearly inflammatory and could have the effect of polarizing the country".
Kenyans cast their ballots in the first presidential poll since ethnic clashes erupted after a disputed 2007 vote after which more than 1,200 people were killed. Alliances forged by the main presidential contenders have lined up a repeat of a largely ethnically based contest.
Presidential contender Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, who have formed one alliance, have both been summoned to face the International Criminal Court (ICC) in April for their alleged role in directing the violence at the last polls.
Both deny any wrongdoing.
Kenyan Foreign Minister Sam Ongeri said he had called in the ambassadors to register his "utmost displeasure" over what he said appeared to be an orchestrated attempt by the EU to influence Kenyan's voting during the elections.
"You will appreciate that with the impending elections just three weeks away, this is a tense moment of national reflection," Ongeri said in a statement after the meeting with the ambassadors.
"The question that begs an answer therefore is whether the EU has an interest in the outcome of the elections."
Britain, France and other EU states said last week that if Kenyatta is elected, they would have only limited contact with him because he is indicted by the ICC.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson, the country's top diplomat to Africa, last week said in a teleconference that Kenyans should be careful who they elect, warning that "choices have consequences".
TIGHT PRESIDENTIAL RACE
Prime Minister Raila Odinga leads in the polls to replace retiring President Mwai Kibaki, while Kenyatta, son of Kenya's first president, is running a close second in a tight race.
Lodewijk Briet, the EU's head of delegation, said the bloc does not favor any candidate.
"We have reiterated that we strongly support the Kenyan government and that we do not in any way favor any particular candidate. It is up to the Kenyans to make that choice," Briet told reporters after the meeting.
"And we are very keen to make sure that cooperation with the ICC continues."
Should Kenyatta not cooperate with the ICC, Western countries are likely to treat him in a similar way as they have Sudanese President Omar Hassan. Bashir was ostracized by foreign governments after defying a 2009 ICC indictment for alleged war crimes committed by his forces in the western Darfur region.
Kenyatta has repeatedly said he will cooperate with the ICC, but should he not do so, it would cause concerns for foreign investors and Western governments, which want Kenya to be tough against impunity to prevent further election violence.
(Additional reporting by Njuwa Maina; Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Jon Hemming)