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Pretoria - France is ready to try to find a way to ensure that Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto can continue to govern Kenya while they stand trial before the International Criminal Court (ICC).
This emerged on Monday during French President François Hollande’s state visit to South Africa. At a press conference after meeting President Jacob Zuma for official talks in Pretoria, Hollande was asked if France, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, would support the AU summit’s weekend decision to ask the security council to defer the trials of Kenyatta and Ruto by at least a year.
The ICC has indicted them for crimes against humanity, alleging they orchestrated violence against their political opponents after the 2007 elections.
The AU leaders, including Zuma, warned that Kenya would collapse if its president and deputy president were obliged to be out of the country together at The Hague, for the full duration of their trials.
Hollande did not answer directly. But he did say that France was ready, to discuss with the AU a “simplification” of the procedures for trying the two Kenyan leaders.
Hollande said that France could not accept any impunity and was committed to the ICC. But France would consider ways of striking a balance between the two principles at stake here; international justice and the right of states to be respected.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius confirmed in an interview that France hoped a solution could be found which avoided impunity but also ensured Kenya “did not come to paralysis”.
Hollande and Fabius seemed to be supporting the ICC being more flexible towards Kenyatta and Ruto, allowing them to govern Kenya while being tried. They seemed to be backing the earlier request from Kenyatta and Ruto to the ICC to allow them to appear in court only at the start and finish of their cases, leaving them free in between to govern Kenya.
Zuma said at the press conference that the ICC had originally agreed to this request, but had then upheld an appeal against the decision by the ICC prosecutor and an NGO. The ICC’s insistence that the president and deputy president would have to be in court throughout their trials would bring down the Kenyan state, Zuma warned.
“So the decision of the African Union must not be taken to say we want impunity. But we can’t support any court procedure which collapses the state.”
Zuma and Hollande also agreed that Africa and the international community needed to intervene urgently in the growing crisis in the Central African Republic (CAR).
Fabius visited CAR on Sunday and reported to Zuma and Hollande yesterday that the situation in the country was getting worse, including the risk of spilling over into the region and of growing religious conflict.
Zuma recalled that after the coup in March, the AU and the region had given the new Seleka-lead CAR government 18 months to work towards elections.
On Monday, he said it was clear this was not going to happen.
“It therefore needs urgent intervention. And we are agreed with President Hollande that we need to do something, all of us. But certainly that must be within the framework of the AU, the United Nations,” Zuma continued.
“And certainly we will be there,” Zuma added, seemingly suggesting that South Africa was ready to send troops into CAR again.
Zuma and his officials had said after the March coup when Seleka rebels ousted President Francois Bozize - and killing 13 South African troops defending him - that South Africa would return to CAR as part of a regional force if asked.
But presidential officials said on Monday such an intervention was still being discussed in government which had not yet made a decision.
Zuma said the AU was trying to develop the capacity to intervene in crises like that in CAR and said he was very happy that Hollande had agreed to support Africa’s efforts. - Independent Foreign Service