By James Macharia
NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya will challenge the right of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to try cases involving post-election violence in the east African country, a cabinet minister said Wednesday.
In December, ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo named senior politicians and a former police chief among six people suspected of being behind the violence that followed the disputed 2007 presidential election. All six were summonsed Tuesday to appear before the ICC on April 7 for an initial appearance.
"As a state, we wish to challenge the admissibility and jurisdiction of the case as is provided under the articles of the Rome Statute and we shall make the challenge at the earliest opportunity," Justice Minister Mutula Kilonzo told Reuters.
"This does not mean we are not cooperating with the ICC, it means we are utilizing the Rome Statute, which established the court, to raise the challenge," he said.
The six suspects said Wednesday they would obey the court summons.
Kilonzo said the decision to try and have the cases referred back to Kenya from The Hague was reached after a meeting between President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
More than 1,220 people died and 350,000 were displaced in the violence, severely denting Kenya's reputation for stability in a turbulent region.
In the peace deal Kibaki and Odinga signed to end the fighting, they agreed that perpetrators of the violence would face justice. A commission of inquiry was formed to investigate the violence and recommended those behind it should be tried in Kenya or The Hague.
Kenyan lawmakers blocked moves to set up a local tribunal to try the suspects. The matter was referred to the ICC, which gave Kenya time to set up a tribunal but took up the cases when the country failed to do so.
"We have jurisdiction over the citizens who are suspects in the case. We will also state that the cases are not of severe enough gravity to justify further action by the ICC," Kilonzo said.
"Out of the three judges, one judge has consistently argued the events that happened were a matter for Kenya to pursue."
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.
(Editing by David Clarke)