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Q+A-Kenya violence leaders may face ICC trial

NAIROBI, Oct 1 (Reuters) - The International Criminal Court said on Wednesday it intends to pursue the masterminds of Kenya's post-election violence last year that killed 1,300 people and uprooted more than 300,000.

ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo is due to hold "decisive" talks with top Kenyan officials in the coming weeks and has pledged to make the east African country an example to the world on dealing with impunity.

WHY THE ICC?

The violence shattered Kenya's image as a stable regional economic powerhouse, brutally exposing decades-old ethnic rifts. It also brought home to the watching world that some in the political elite were prepared to take extreme steps to cling onto power, without any obvious fear of retribution.

As part of a power-sharing deal to end the violence, the new coalition government promised to try the main suspects at a special tribunal. A commission headed by a Kenyan judge investigated the mayhem and came up with a list of the top 10 suspects accused of funding or fuelling the killing.

Crisis mediator Kofi Annan made clear that if the government failed to set up a tribunal he would hand over the names to Moreno-Ocampo and the ICC would take over. He did this in July after parliament flung out a bill to set up a tribunal and the cabinet repeatedly failed to agree on how to proceed.

WHY KENYA?

The ICC has been asked to pursue suspected war criminals by Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. The Hague court has also indicted Sudan's president. But some are surprised that Kenya, a relatively stable nation despite last year's trouble, has been targeted so quickly.

Essentially, donor nations see Kenya as being too important to fail -- for its economic significance and as a regional buffer against other potential flashpoints.

Kenya is by far east Africa's biggest economy and home to some 38 million people. Its Mombasa port is a key trade route for landlocked neighbours like Rwanda, Burundi, south Sudan and Uganda -- the latter two both have substantial oil deposits.

It also shares a long porous border with the failed Horn of Africa nation of Somalia. Insurgents with links to al Qaeda control the territory the other side of the frontier. Western nations, and Nairobi, fear they could destabilise the region.

Without decisive action on Kenya, donor nations fear the culture of impunity in east Africa's most corrupt state could become even more entrenched -- increasing the risk that violence could flare either before or during the 2012 election.

WHO IS IN THE FIRING LINE?

The 10 names held by Ocampo have not been revealed. Analysts and local media say the list includes prominent sitting cabinet ministers, members of parliament and business people on both sides of the country's political divide.

Analysts say the ICC already has reams of evidence gathered by some very thorough lawyers and that once it decides to act, warrants could follow quickly.

WHAT ARE THE RISKS?

The international community is walking a fine line.

On one hand, major donors such as the United States and the European Union are stepping up the pressure on the coalition leaders -- President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga -- to get their feuding coalition partners to work together.

They want it to pass constitutional reforms, resolve festering land issues and stem the endemic corruption that has hamstrung a potentially rich country for decades.

According to surveys, most Kenyans -- frustrated by creaking public services and infrastructure, rampant crime and grinding poverty in city slums and rural areas -- want the ICC to try some big fish in the hope it will be a catalyst for change.

But if a few political heavyweights are taken to The Hague, there could be major repercussions. Will they go quietly? Will they mobilise notoriously violent allied militias? Or will they try to take down others too?

Given that powerful ministers are thought to be in the ICC's crosshairs, that could pose a serious risk to the already fragile coalition government.

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