The U.S. government said Thursday it does not support Kenya's bid to get the U.N. Security Council to defer the cases of six suspects facing charges of crimes against humanity at an international court.
The U.S. Embassy in Kenya said that Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg told Kenya's vice president in a meeting Wednesday that delaying the cases at the International Criminal Court will undermine Kenya's prospects for long-term stability.
The ICC's chief prosecutor has said the six bear the greatest responsibility for Kenya's 2007-08 postelection violence that killed more than 1,000 people.
Kenya's vice president is in the U.S. with a team of six Cabinet ministers _ appointed by President Mwai Kibaki last week _ to lobby U.N. Security Council members to defer the Kenyan ICC cases.
The six suspects said on Wednesday that they would honor summonses issued by the ICC this week to appear at the court in April. Among the six are Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta _ the son of Kenya's founding president _ and former higher education minister William Ruto.
The Kenyan efforts to defer the ICC case at the Security Council appear unlikely to succeed, given the U.S. position. Britain and France also have signaled that they are unlikely to support Kenya's request.
Despite that, a Kenyan government spokesman exuded optimism Thursday that Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka could still persuade the U.S. to change its position.
"The government of the U.S. has not communicated the decision to us because it has to go all the way to the secretary of state and the U.S. president," said spokesman Alfred Mutua.
Kibaki's group says Kenya can prosecute the perpetrators of the violence locally because of a reformed judiciary and a new constitution that was passed in August. They also argue that proceeding with cases may spark off violence.
The group has also announced that it will challenge the admissibility of the cases and the jurisdiction of the ICC. If efforts at the Security Council fail to delay the case, Kenya can still try to persuade the ICC that it can try the suspects in Kenyan courts.
Mutua said by allowing the ICC to prosecute the six Kenya would be admitting that its systems do not work, essentially labeling the dominant country in East Africa a failed state.
"The government wants to show the world that Kenya is a progressive, not a retrogressive, state," Mutua said.
Kenya was plunged into violence shortly after 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 in the 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.
Odinga does not support the efforts to delay the cases at the ICC.
On Monday, Musyoka met with the president of the U.N. Security Council and said the ICC trials could cause friction just as Kenya is working through national healing and reconciliation.