By Aaron Gray-Block
THE HAGUE (Reuters) - The International Criminal Court said Tuesday it was issuing a summons to six suspects in Kenya's post-election violence, a move that could destabilize the country's coalition cabinet which is divided over the issue.
The ICC prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, in December named three Kenyan government ministers and a former police chief among six suspects behind the east African country's post-election violence in 2008.
All six suspects were summonsed to appear before the ICC on April 7 for an initial appearance. This would be followed by a confirmation of charges hearing, after which the court would then need to decide whether the suspects should stand trial.
Many members of Kenya's coalition cabinet want the country to exit the ICC.
Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki has requested the U.N. Security Council to defer the trials for a year and then have the cases heard in Nairobi, a plan backed by the African Union.
However, Prime Minister Raila Odinga opposes the move, saying the trials should be held at The Hague.
Prominent among the six suspects are finance minister and deputy prime minister Uhuru Kenyatta, son of Kenya's founding father Jomo Kenyatta, and William Ruto, the higher education minister who has been suspended to fight a corruption case.
The rest are cabinet secretary Francis Muthaura, former Industrialization Minister Henry Kosgey, who quit the cabinet to fight separate corruption charges in court, former police chief Mohammed Hussein Ali and radio executive Joshua arap Sang.
More than 1,220 people were killed in the violence and 350,000 were displaced, severely denting Kenya's reputation for stability in a turbulent region.
JUSTICE FOR VICTIMS
Human Rights Watch senior counsel, Elizabeth Evenson, said: "With today's decisions, there is now a case that the six individuals will have to answer. This is the first effort at rendering justice for victims of horrific violence in post-election Kenya.
"Of course, they are entitled to the full protection of rights. Today's decisions are not a statement of their guilt. There is a judicial process well under way now that should not be subject to political interference."
Moreno-Ocampo filed two separate cases, with different charges. Ruto, Kosgey and Sang were called to appear in court on charges of crimes against humanity, including murder, forcible transfer and persecution.
Muthaura, Kenyatta and Ali were summonsed for crimes against humanity, including murder, forcible transfer, rape and persecution.
Kibaki has said he would take no action yet against the suspects because the ICC case was nowhere near completed.
Opinion polls show many Kenyans want the trials to be held at The Hague. Human rights groups see the case as a deterrent against violence in future elections, next due in 2012, showing that politicians who instigate mayhem will be punished.