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BACK OFF, KENYA TELLS EU ENVOY

Tuesday, February 12, 2013 - 00:00 -- BY DAVID MWERE AND IBRAHIM ORUKO

AN angry Foreign Affairs Minister Prof Sam Ongeri yesterday demanded that European ambassadors refrain from commenting on Kenyan election matters.

“I have been compelled to call this meeting with you this morning to register my utmost displeasure and that of the government of Kenya at what appears to be an orchestrated attempt by a number of you to influence the way Kenyans conduct their forthcoming elections," he said. 

 “The remarks made by EU envoys are clearly inflammatory and could have the effect of polarising the country. Indeed, these elections are heavily contested and statements warning Kenyans that the poll results are in favour of certain candidates would have consequences could amount to taking sides,” Prof Ongeri told the diplomats.

EU and American diplomats have recently warned that they can only meet ICC indictees "on essential matters," and repeated that position after the meeting with Ongeri.

Therefore if Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto win the presidential election on March 4, they will not be able to be in regular or official communication with the EU or USA until their trials were over.

Prof Ongeri spoke to the press after holding a closed door meeting with 25 EU ambassadors and high commissioners.

He said that he had summoned the EU diplomats to clarify statements issued by the British, French and Swiss envoys that choices have consequences although Kenyans are free to elect whoever they choose. The American under-secretary for Africa Johnny Carson said the same thing last week.

Ongeri, an ally of Jubilee presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta, accused the envoys of interfering with local affairs and inciting violence by issuing statements that appear to support one side.

"The minister seemed to be angry and was making a number of allegations. But the ambassadors stood their ground that they are not taking sides but choices have consequences," said an official who attended the meeting. 

The European Union did not back down in a statement issued after the meeting by head of delegation Lodevijk Briet.

The EU envoys emphasised the need for "free and fair elections will create the stable and secure environment necessary to continue to attract foreign investment" and said "We trust the Kenyan people to make wise decisions and elect responsible leaders."

But they repeated that "The European Union and other like-minded states have a long-standing policy, not limited to Kenya, to have only essential contact with indicted ICC suspects". 

 "The European Union supports an end to impunity and supports the rule of law in Kenya.  Regardless who is elected President, cooperation with the International Criminal Court is of vital importance to create accountability for political violence and build a stable Kenya. The European Union Member States are state parties to the Rome Statue and bound by its legal obligations, as much as Kenya is," said the EU statement.

“Such overt partiality displayed openly by the EU envoys, in our view constitute a serious breach of the IEBC’s code of conduct and must be censured,” Ongeri said.

Afterward Briet told journalists that their EU had not threatened sanctions.

“The word sanctions is yet to come from us. We are hoping for a violence free elections and we have restated our support for the ICC process and to the government of Kenya to deliver a free, fair and democratic elections,” Briet said.

British High Commissioner Christian Turner and French ambassador Etienne de Poncins last week both said their countries will “limit contact with ICC indictees to only essential contact.” They attended the meeting with Ongeri.

"It was not a nice atmosphere. Ongeri read a statement. There were a few comments from ambassadors. He replied and that was it," said one ambassador.

Yesterday Trade Minister Moses Wetangula and Education minister Mutula Kilonzo dismissed Ongeri's statement. They said the other half of the coalition government had not been consulted before the statement was issued.

“We do not live in isolation. Our bilateral and multilateral friends, our trading partners and indeed the international community have every right to not only show concern on our issues, but indeed legitimately comment about them. We do with others too. One may very well ask, why are we in Somalia? Yet we are legitimately there! I doubt Ongeri would have criticised the ambassadors if they were questioning the suitability of Cord candidates,” said Wetangula, the previous Foreign affairs minister.

Mutula said Ongeri should listen to the international community.

“He is wrong. Foreign missions represent friendly countries which share common interests with Kenya. Advice from friends is a treasure that we must cherish,” said Mutula.