Two Kenyan ex-ministers in court over post-election violence

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Two Kenyan ex-government ministers went on trial in the International Criminal Court here Thursday on charges of crimes against humanity linked to their country's post-election violence in 2007-08.

Former higher education minister William Ruto, former industry minister Henry Kosgey and another co-accused, radio presenter Joshua Arap Sang, appeared before a pre-trial chamber to be informed of the charges levelled against them.

"The allegations that have been made here, it sounds that they are only possible in a movie," Ruto told the court, dismissing the charges as "stories from the prosecutor and his team".

The three, all close associates of Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, were the first of six Kenyan political leaders who were charged in connection with the 2007-2008 post-electoral violence that left about 1,200 people died.

Also to appear before the court here Friday are Kenya's Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, Francis Muthaura, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki's right-hand man, and Mohammed Hussein Ali, who was police chief during the post-election violence.

Charges against the six include murder, deportation, rape, inhumane acts, persecution and torture in the months following Kibaki's contested re-election in December 2007.

"An innocent person like me, to be dragged all the way here, is a matter that puzzles me," Ruto, a potential candidate in next year's presidential election, told the court.

"There's no reason for us to be here, we're innocent people. There's no court that tries innocent people," he told reporters after the hearing, before belting out his country's national anthem along with some 30 Kenyan lawmakers who came here to back him.

A procedural hearing, which the co-accused are not required to attend, was set for April 18 while another to confirm the charges was set for September 1.

Before any trial can take place, ICC judges must confirm charges against the six men, a process which may take several months.

The ICC has divided the six co-accused into two groups according to their political allegiances.

Issuing summonses for the men in March, the ICC said there were reasonable grounds to believe that the Kenyatta group was responsible for attacks against supporters of Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement (OMD) with a view to keeping Kibaki's Party for National Unity (PNU) in power.

Ruto, Kosgey and Sang, on the other hand, were believed to have been part of a plan "targeting members of the civilian population supporting the PNU, in order to punish them and evict them from the Rift Valley with the ultimate goal of gaining power and creating a uniform ODM voting block."

Kenya was plunged into violence after the December 27, 2007 general elections in which then opposition chief Odinga accused Kibaki of having rigged his re-election.

What began as political riots soon turned into ethnic killings targeting Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe.

They launched reprisal attacks in which homes were torched and people hacked to death in the country's worst violence since independence in 1963.

Kenya has filed an application for the court to declare the two cases inadmissible, saying the country was competent to handle the prosecution itself.

The ICC, the world's only independent, permanent tribunal for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity, can only prosecute if a state is unwilling or unable to do so.

The court took charge of the case after Nairobi failed to set up a tribunal of its own in line with agreements brokered by former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan to end the post-vote chaos.

© 2011 AFP

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