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Annan Gives Kenya Deadline for Election Violence Tribunal

Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who mediated a power-sharing agreement between Kenya's main political parties last year following disputed elections, says the country's leaders have until August to set up a tribunal to try those responsible for organizing post-election violence. If they fail to do so, Mr. Annan says he will forward the names of the chief suspects to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

As part of the power-sharing agreement, a committee was set up to investigate the political and ethnic violence that killed more than 1,300 people and displaced over 300,000 following disputed elections in December 2007. That committee identified 10 key suspects, supposedly including high-profile political and business leaders, whose names were handed to former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan in a sealed envelope.

The initial commission recommended Mr. Annan pass the names to the International Criminal Court if Kenya failed to create the tribunal by this past February. The government introduced a bill to do so, but it was defeated in parliament.

Mr. Annan allowed Kenya's leaders more time to set up the tribunal, but there has been little movement since then. He told BBC radio he has been in discussions with President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the leaders of Kenya's two main political factions, and they have agreed to try again to pass the necessary legislation.

The former U.N. chief said if the court is not created within a "reasonable period," which he identified as the end of August, he would be forced to hand over the names to the International Criminal Court.

Mr. Odinga claimed he won the 2007 election, but the president's party rigged the results. The episode set off a wave of political and ethnic violence in several parts of the country.

With the help of pressure from international leaders, Mr. Annan negotiated the power-sharing government. The coalition has held together with no major outbreaks of violence, but that two sides have continuously bickered over the terms of the arrangement, and have made little progress on promised reforms.

Many of those who opposed the bill in parliament said they did not trust Kenya's justice system to handle a serious investigation, saying The Hague would be a better option. But observers say that many of the opponents are likely motivated by self-interest, seeing the international option as less likely to provide scrutiny.

John Mututho, a lawmaker from Naivasha, one of the towns worst-affected by the violence, has endorsed sending the names to the international court, saying the local process is likely to continue to be plagued by delays, and could be disruptive as the next elections approach.

"If he wants to act, let him act now," Mututho said. "I do not see why we need deadlines. By the time they set up that thing, then we are going another one year. Then we shall be only half a year to start campaigns and then after that people will not understand the importance of maintaining peace in such a situation like this."

But Ngari Gituku, a fellow at the Kenya Leadership Institute, says he believes the president and prime minister are earnest in their desire to establish a local tribunal.

"We have the whole month of June, we have July, and I am sure the president, in conjunction with the prime minister, must have put certain things in place to ensure that the things that Kofi Annan is talking about will be done well before that time comes up," Gituku said.

Mr. Annan said a local court would be the best option, noting the importance of trying suspects within their community.

That view is shared by many human rights and legal groups, who point out that Kenya may not be a high priority for the international court, and that if it is taken up, the process could move very slowly. The International Criminal Court has said it is watching developments in Kenya.