The International Criminal Court summoned six leading Kenyans Tuesday to face crimes against humanity charges for the deadly postelection violence that tore through the country after its disputed 2007 presidential vote.
Among those called to appear in court were Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, former higher education minister William Ruto, former Minister of Industrialization Henry Kiprono Kosgey and Cabinet secretary Francis Kirimi Muthaura.
Also summoned were former police chief Mohammed Hussein Ali and broadcaster Joshua Sang.
Tuesday's decision came as parts of the Kenyan government, supported by the African Union, are pushing the U.N. Security Council to defer the case for a year while Kenya tries to reform its judiciary so it can handle the cases at home.
In written rulings, judges said the summons should be "sufficient to ensure their appearance before the court."
All six men, who are charged in two separate cases, were ordered to appear in court April 7. If they do not surrender voluntarily, judges can issue arrest warrants.
Kenya was plunged into violence shortly after President Mwai Kibaki was declared winner of the December 2007 vote that supporters of opponent Raila Odinga said was rigged.
More than 600,000 people were forced from their homes and more than 1,000 people were killed in brutal attacks that shattered Kenya's reputation as a haven of stability in a region roiled by war.
The postelection clashes erupted along tribal lines and were only stopped after former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan mediated a peace agreement that created a coalition government in which Odinga was appointed prime minister.
Liz Evenson, senior counsel with Human Rights Watch's International Justice Program, welcomed the summonses.
"With today's decisions, there is now a case that the six individuals will have to answer," she said. "This is the first effort at rendering justice for victims of horrific violence in postelection Kenya."
Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo named the six suspects in December and asked judges to issue the summonses.
Moreno-Ocampo alleged that Ruto began plotting attacks on supporters of Kibaki a year before the election and worked together with Kosgey and Sang to coordinate a campaign of killing and forced deportations in the Rift Valley in western Kenya.
In a separate case, Moreno-Ocampo charged Kenyatta _ son of Kenyan independence hero and founding president Jomo Kenyatta _ Muthaura and former police commissioner Hussein Ali. They are suspected of murder, deportation, persecution, rape and inhumane acts committed in retaliation against supporters of Odinga, the current prime minister.
One wing of Kenya's government has been lobbying for the investigation against the six to be deferred by the Security Council, which has the power to halt cases at the International Criminal Court for a year and extend the deferral by a further 12 months.
On Friday, Kibaki appointed Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka and six ministers as special envoys with a mandate of lobbying the permanent members of the U.N. Security council to request the ICC to defer the cases for a year.
Kalonzo is in New York where he met with the president of the U.N. security council Li Baodong of China on Monday, according to the vice president's press service.
Kalonzo told Baodong that ICC trials could cause friction just as Kenya is in the midst of consolidating peace and national healing and reconciliation.
Kalonzo also plans to meet with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the U.S. Permanent representative to the U.N. Susan Rice as well as the Representatives of Russia, the UK and France.
Nearly all civil society groups opposed the lobbying and have started a campaign to collect 1 million signatures from Kenyans to show that they support trials by the ICC.
According Ngujiri Wambugu an official of non governmental organization, Change Advocates, they have so far collected 800,000 signatures.
Associated Press writer Tom Odula in Nairobi, Kenya, contributed to this report.
(This version CORRECTS that Kosgey is former minister.)