NAIROBI, Kenya — The International Criminal Court prosecutor on Tuesday commended Kenya's political leaders — and even four suspects accused of orchestrating mass violence — for cooperating with the international tribunal, saying that Kenya is "showing a 21st-century model to manage conflict."
Luis Moreno-Ocampo said it could take 18 months or more to bring to trial four Kenyans charged with crimes against humanity for violence that followed the country's 2007 presidential election. More than 1,000 people died.
Kenya will hold elections this year or early in 2013, and the trial timeline set out by Moreno-Ocampo sets up the possibility Kenya could elect a president who will then have to stand trial at The Hague.
The court on Monday confirmed charges against four of six original suspects, including Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and former Education Minister William Ruto. Both plan to run for president. Kenyatta is the son of Kenya's founding president, Jomo Kenyatta
Reaction inside Kenya to Monday's decision to charge the four was subdued. There were no reports of violence.
"The reaction was perfect. There was no problem in Kenya and even the persons charged with the crimes explained they still believe they are innocent but they will keep cooperating with the court. I think it is remarkable," ICC Prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo said at a news conference in The Hague, Netherlands.
Kenya's attorney general said Tuesday that it would be premature on the part of the government to disallow Kenyatta or Ruto from running for office. The four suspects plan to appeal the charges against them by the court, a process that will take several months.
Attorney General Githu Muigai said a government committee of legal scholars would look at whether the two can run for president after legal appeals have been exhausted.
Muigai also said that Kenya is looking at setting up a special division inside its Supreme Court to deal with cases stemming from the election violence. Kenya exploded in tribal and other attacks after President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner of a flawed election.
Kenya has never brought cases related to the violence to trial, though Muigai said he has 5,000 files related to the postelection period and said it is time that the legal process "be energized" in Kenya. The country's parliament defeated two attempts to create a special tribunal to prosecute cases, votes seen as a way for Kenya's powerful to protect their own.
Muigai did not give a timeline for the tribunal to begin its work. He said Kenya will fully cooperate with the ICC as it moves forward with its cases against the four prominent Kenyans, adding: "It is our legal obligation."
Along with Kenyatta and Ruto, Cabinet Secretary Francis Muthaura and radio broadcaster Joshua Arap Sang were also charged by the court on Monday.
After the mass violence broke out, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan helped broker a deal that saw Kibaki retain the presidency and his top rival, Raila Odinga, fill the newly created position of prime minister. The coalition government has held together the last four years, and political leaders here say violence is no longer a tool that will be used — a claim that will be tested during the next presidential election.
"For the last four years, they made this miracle. They have this coalition government ... working together, when in the past they were attacking each other," Moreno-Ocampo said.
Associated Press reporter Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands contributed to this report.