NAIROBI, Kenya – A lawyer for a former government minister being investigated by the International Criminal Court said Wednesday he has contacted witnesses who had been protectively moved to a neighboring country, the second time witnesses in hiding have been exposed.
Charles Koech, a lawyer for former minister William Ruto, said he spoke to witnesses who had been moved to Tanzania by the ICC's witness protection program and will soon travel there to get sworn statements.
Koech said the six witnesses told him they want to withdraw statements they made to the ICC implicating Ruto in the violence after Kenya's disputed 2007 election. The witnesses claim they were coached, Koech said.
The ICC is expected to issue indictments against several top Kenyan leaders later this month.
Koech said the most serious allegations by one of the witnesses was that Ruto purchased 3,000 guns and distributed them to members of his Kalenjin ethnic group to kill members of the Kikuyu community. A second allegation is that Ruto purchased petrol that was used to burn a church where at least 100 Kikuyus sought refuge, Koech said. At least 35 people died in that fire.
"The six witnesses in Tanzania have been in constant touch and they are willing to come home," Koech said. "They are apprehensive about their communities' reaction for giving information."
More than 1,000 people died in Kenya's 2007-08 postelection violence after President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner of the hotly contested poll. Initial violence pitted other ethnic groups against Kibaki's Kikuyu people. Later Kikuyus attacked other tribes and police shot dead scores of protesters.
The breach of the ICC witness protection program follows a statement made by ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo two weeks ago that he is aware of attempts to intimidate or bribe potential witnesses and has informed Kenyan authorities.
Moreno Ocampo has said previously he will not use testimony from three witnesses in Kenya who have already recanted their statements. Those three witnesses are also represented by Koech.
The three men were being kept in a witness protection program in Kenya run by the government-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights. The three claimed that they recorded statements against Ruto after they were bribed and coached by an official of the commission.
The commission denied the allegations and said what three men were referring to as bribes are standard rent and stipend payments made to protected witnesses.
Moreno Ocampo flew to Nairobi Tuesday to review progress made by the government to implement key reforms that were part of peace deal signed to end the violence and prevent a repeat in the next presidential election in 2012.
Moreno Ocampo has said he believes what happened during Kenya's postelection violence constitutes crimes against humanity.
A civil rights activist in Kenya, Okoiti Omtata, said the fact that a lawyer managed to find witnesses in a protection program and contact them revealed the weakness of the program.
"Basically this says this (program) is porous and if they were taking this thing seriously they would have taken these people beyond Tanzania, like somewhere in the United States," said Omtata.
Last week the U.K. government said it is concerned about reports of witness intimidation and official interference in the ICC probe of Kenya's postelection violence and gave about $312,000 to the Special Fund of the Court on Relocations. The money is earmarked for relocations of people at risk in Kenya.