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Kenya says stability trumps ICC in Bashir row

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya on Sunday defended its decision not to arrest Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who is wanted on genocide charges by the International Criminal Court, when he visited the country this week.

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir speaks at an iftar, or the breaking of the fast, dinner organized by Sudanese Copts at the Coptic Club in Khartoum during Ramadan August 23, 2010. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

The government did not want to endanger regional stability, the Foreign Ministry said.

Bashir’s visit on Friday to attend a ceremony to sign a new constitution has drawn criticism from around the world because as a signatory of the Rome Statute, Kenya is obliged to act on an ICC warrant of arrest against him for charges of genocide.

It has also drawn fault lines in the Kenyan grand coalition government with Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s side protesting against the visit. The ICC is investigating Kenya’s post-election violence of 2008.

“Kenya’s obligation to the ICC notwithstanding, the country has a legitimate and strategic interest in ensuring peace and stability in the sub-region and promoting peace, justice and reconciliation in the Sudan,” Richard Onyonka, deputy minister of foreign affairs, told reporters.

Kenya, which has the largest economy in east Africa, has borne the brunt of instability in the region with refugees streaming in over the years from unstable neighbors like Somalia.

Onyonka said the continued existence of a stable and viable economy relied heavily on the stability of Kenya’s neighbors, including Sudan.

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Kenya is a guarantor to the Sudanese peace deal signed in 2005, expected to culminate with a referendum early next year on whether South Sudan should become an independent state.

Officials in Nairobi, who want to open a transport corridor linking a second port at Lamu to South Sudan to take advantage of growing trade after the peace deal, favors an even-handed approach to both Khartoum and Juba, in the run-up to the plebiscite.

REAFFIRM COMMITMENT TO ICC

The guarantor of Kenya’s own peace deal that ended weeks of violence in early 2008, Kofi Annan, said he was surprised by the presence of Bashir at the signing into law ceremony of the new constitution.

“Kenya has specific obligations as a signatory of the Rome statute and is also cooperating with the International Criminal Court (ICC) on investigations relating to the 2007/8 election violence,” he said in a statement issued on Sunday.

“In the circumstances, the Government should clarify its position and reaffirm its cooperation with and commitment to the ICC.”

Onyonka said the country was committed to cooperating with the international court but as a member of the African Union, it was also obliged to respect the AU’s decision not to co-operate with the court in relation to Bashir’s arrest.

Editing by Angus MacSwan

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