Kenya: Obamas warning

hillary_clintonThe United States on Wednesday threatened to impose sanctions on Kenyas leaders if they continue to block the formation of a special tribunal to try election violence suspects.

In a strong message delivered behind closed doors by the US Secretary of State, Mrs Hillary Clinton (pictured) on Wednesday, American President Barrack Obama asked the leaders to show their determination to end impunity and punish those responsible for the violence.

Cabinet ministers who attended the talks later told the Nation that Mrs Clinton made it quite clear that she was delivering a message from Mr Obama.

However, an Office of the President official, who did not wish to be identified discussing confidential matters of state, said a considerable part of the one-and-a-half hour meeting at the KICC in Nairobi dwelt on Somalia and how to deal with the threat of terrorism.

He said he formed the impression that America approved of the fact that Kenya’s President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga were working together more closely. However, it was impatient at the slow pace of reforms and wanted them to push forward the agenda against impunity.

The meeting was attended by President Kibaki, Mr Odinga, Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, Cabinet ministers George Saitoti, Moses Wetangula, James Orengo, Mutula Kilonzo and US ambassador Michael Ranneberger.

Mrs Clinton is in the country to attend the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) forum, which seeks ways to improve trade between the continent and America.

Mrs Clinton, Americas top diplomat, went into the high-level meeting with the Kenyan leaders immediately after President Kibaki officially opened the Agoa talks.

Ministers and other officials familiar with the deliberations said though the US acknowledged Kenyas importance to US interests in the region, it was concerned at the failure by the government to put in place laws establishing a local tribunal.

According to sources, Mrs Clinton challenged President Kibaki and Mr Odinga to provide leadership in establishing the tribunal.

A report by the Waki commission of inquiry said 1,133 people were killed and 650,000 evicted from their homes in the violence which has tarnished Kenyas reputation and hurt the economy.

Addressing a joint press conference with Mr Wetangula after the meeting, Mrs Clinton said: We are clearly disappointed that prosecutions have not taken place one and a half years later.

This, therefore, means that all relevant authorities must take their responsibilities seriously.

On the formation of a tribunal she said: This process takes a lot of political will and leadership. This is why we are saying that a local tribunal be established. This is best for Kenya.

She referred to the question of visa bans during the press conference when she said: These are options that are always available and open to us. We, however, hope that we dont get to that point.

However, Mrs Clinton acknowledged the difficulty in trying those who masterminded the violence.

How do you go about prosecuting these individuals without fanning more violence from their supporters? she posed.

On Tuesday, the US embassy in Nairobi criticised last weeks Cabinet decision to throw out two draft Bills on the local tribunal. The US, the statement said, would take action against those blocking the punishment of leaders named in the Waki list.

The British High Commissioner, Mr Robert Macaire, had voiced similar criticism.

Last week, Cabinet said it will reform the Judiciary and use the High Court to punish the perpetrators of the violence. However, the ministers left the door open for the International Criminal Court to try some of the key suspects.

The government has at times looked helpless in the face of a Parliament determined to ensure that a local tribunal is not formed. Majority of MPs want the perpetrators tried at The Hague.

Though Mrs Clinton welcomed the establishment of the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission, she said the public would not be satisfied if it failed to offer real justice.

She added that the absence of strong, democratic and effective institutions had encouraged impunity, abuses of human rights and lack of respect for the rule of law.

In his remarks while opening the Agoa talks, President Kibaki said the reform agenda was on course and would be completed within the shortest time possible.

The government, he said, intended to significantly reform its security, judicial and democratic processes and attain full accountability for all its actions.

These and other reforms are genuinely Kenyan, who are also driving them forward in earnest for the good of all, said the President.

During the private meeting, ministers said the President did not respond to Mrs Clinton, but Mr Odinga said that it would be futile for the government to take the Bills on a local to a hostile Parliament that had vowed to throw them out.

Mr Musyoka said the government was committed to reforms as outlined in the National Accord.

During the joint press conference, Mr Wetangula agreed with Mrs Clinton that the country required an internal solution on the question of how to punish the masterminds of the violence.

It would be a welcome sign to see people prosecuted in our local courts, he said.

Briefing journalists on the meeting between the US delegation and top Kenyan officials, Mr Wetangula said insecurity in Somalia, travel advisories regularly issued by the US against Kenya, the millennium challenge account and piracy in the Gulf of Aden were discussed in the closed-door talks.

Daily Nation

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