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Sudan president dampens Kenya's fete

Sudan president dampens Kenya's fete

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NAIROBI - Friday, 27 August, 2010, will be remembered by many as a day Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki and his Prime Minister Raila Odinga led Kenya to promulgate new laws for the country. But the event had a darker side. The installation of the new constitution was a big event in Kenya and the East African region. The fete was attended by a host regional leaders, and among them was a surprise guest - and for many an unwelcome one: Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

Al-Bashir, under indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC) over his alleged role in genocide in Darfur in the Western part of Sudan, is said to have dampened the festive mood at Kenya’s “second” liberation.

The VIP guests included presidents of Uganda, Rwanda, Comoros and Zanzibar. The presence of al-Bashir not only annoyed some Kenyans but the international community as well.

Al-Bashir strode to Uhuru Park Grounds, the venue for the fete in Kenya’s capital city centre, amid tight security, a move that took many aback.

Human rights groups led by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights bitterly protested the presence of al-Bashir, saying Kenya as a state party to the ICC should have arrested and handed him over to The Hague.

Kenya is also a leading member of the African Union, however, which considers the ICC indictment of al-Bashir erroneous.

Many analysts say Kenya’s problem in the al-Bashir case is one of balancing conflicting international commitments in such a way as not to jeopardize the country’s national interests, which include its role in the region.

US President Barack Obama combined criticism with congratulations in his response to Friday's ceremony marking the adoption of the new Constitution, saying Kenya had made a stride towards the right direction but said, it was wrong for them to allow al-Bashir in the country.

Speaking to journalists, foreign affairs Minister Moses Wetang’ula defended Kenya’s stand saying arresting al-Bashir will jeopardize the fragile the Comprehensive Peace Agreement with Southern Sudan, set to go for a referendum next year.

Mr. Wetang’ula said such a move could spark violence in Sudan that would most likely spill over to Kenya.

Despite Wetang'ula's attempts to explain Kenya's reasoning, the country could find itself in trouble for hosting Sudan President Omar al-Bashir. The ICC is now saying it would report his presence in the country to the UN Security Council for possible appropriate action against Kenya.

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