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The chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, says he will request ICC judges to open an investigation into crimes committed after the disputed 2007 elections.  Ocampo made the announcement in Nairobi, following talks with the Kenya's top leaders.

The ICC prosecutor arrived in the capital early Thursday and held a two-hour, closed-door meeting with Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

At a news conference with the two leaders, Luis Moreno-Ocampo said he would be asking ICC judges at The Hague next month to formally open an investigation into crimes committed in the weeks following Kenya's disputed presidential election in late December, 2007.

"I consider the crimes committed in Kenya to be crimes against humanity," Ocampo said. "Therefore, the gravity is there.  So, I informed them, in December, I will request the judges of the International Criminal Court to open an investigation.  And that is the process established by the Rome Treaty, which is a global coalition to control matters of atrocities and Kenya is a member of the coalition."
Kenyans have been expecting the ICC to step in to prosecute the main suspects behind the post-election violence, after the Kenyan government failed to meet its own September deadline to establish a local tribunal.

More than 1,000 people were killed and some 300,000 others displaced in the mayhem that threatened to break the country apart along tribal lines.  The violence ended after Mr. Kibaki and Mr. Odinga signed a power-sharing deal and agreed to wide-ranging reforms aimed at preventing future violence.

But the issue of prosecuting those who encouraged and carried out the violence has sparked bitter wrangling among politicians in the coalition government.  Expressing deep concerns about the government's inability to move forward, former U.N. chief Kofi Annan, who negotiated the power-sharing agreement, handed over a list of top suspects to the ICC in July.

The names of the suspects have not been released.  But they are believed to include several cabinet ministers and powerful political allies of President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga.

Both leaders expressed support for Ocampo's decision to refer the matter to the ICC.  But the president said his government was still seeking a way to set up a local tribunal.  

"The government remained fully committed to discharge its primary responsibility, in accordance with the Rome statute, to establish a local judicial mechanism to deal with the perpetrators of the post-election violence," Kibaki said.

Kenyan politicians are under international and domestic pressure to implement reforms before the next presidential election in 2012.   It is feared that if Kenya does not tackle the root causes of last year's violence, the country could plunge into chaos again.