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Kenya defends failure to arrest Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir in Nairobi

Posted by seumasach on August 31, 2010


29th August, 2010

The Kenyan government defended its failure to arrest Sudan’s president while he was in Nairobi on Friday, citing strategic interest in the neighbouring country.

Richard Onyonka, an assistant foreign minister, said today that arrestingOmar al-Bashir may have risked adversely affected peace in Sudan.

“Apart from being an immediate neighbour, Sudan’s stability is vitally linked to Kenya‘s continued peace and well being,” he said. Kenya drew criticism for inviting Bashir to witness the signing of its new constitution. He is wanted by the international criminal court for allegedly masterminding the genocide in Darfur.

Sudan is preparing for a referendum next year in which the south may secede. A 2005 peace agreement established a power-sharing government aimed at ending four decades of on-and-off war between the north and south. The agreement also called for a referendum. But negotiations have barely begun and tensions are rising.

Onyonka said Kenya has an obligation, both as a neighbour and as a mediator in the peace agreement, to keep talking with the leadership of Sudan’s power-sharing government to ensure that peace is sustained.

He said the Kenyan government also invited Salva Kiir, the vice-president who is also Southern Sudan’s leader, to attend Friday’s event. Kiir could not attend because government protocol does not allow the president and vice-president to travel abroad at the same time, Onyonka said.

“We must have a peaceful resolution to the issues of Sudan and Kenya is going to make sure that we achieve the results,” he said. “If it means negotiating with both parties we shall.”

Kenya’s transport minister, Amos Kimunya, added: “It is important, as Kenyans, for us to appreciate that Kenyan interests must come first, regional interests come second and international interests come third.”

He also praised the embattled Sudanese leader for taking the risk to visit Kenya, which is a member of the international court. The court has no police force and depends on member states to enforce its orders.

“We should be thankful to [Bashir], that he took the risk on an international warrant against him, to travel out of Sudan to honour the people of Kenya on this momentous occasion,” he said.

Onyonka said while Kenya is committed to co-operating with the ICC, that commitment was superseded by an African Union decision to not arrest and extradite Bashir.

Sudan’s president is the first sitting head of state indicted by the world’s first permanent war crimes tribunal since it was established in 2002. He refuses to recognise the court’s jurisdiction.

He was charged in March 2009 with five counts of crimes against humanity and two of war crimes for allegedly orchestrating atrocities in Darfur. In July, the ICC charged him with three counts of genocide, the first time the world’s first permanent war crimes tribunal has issued genocide charges.

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