Kenya allows International Criminal Court to open office in Nairobi days after al-Bashir visit

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Kenya on Friday allowed the International Criminal Court to open an office in the country, a development that comes after Kenya's commitment to the court came into question when the nation hosted Sudan's indicted leader last week.

ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo is investigating top Kenyan leaders and businesspeople for their roles in the country's December 2007 to February 2008 post-election violence that killed more than 1,000 people.

On Friday, Kenya granted the ICC immunity from legal challenges, tax exemptions and other privileges in a letter signed by Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetangula.

The move comes only a week after Kenya hosted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir during a ceremony for Kenya's new constitution.

Al-Bashir faces charges of genocide and crimes against humanity at the ICC stemming from the violence in Sudan's Darfur region. Despite being a party to the statute that created the ICC, Kenya did not arrest al-Bashir, arguing that such a move would destabilize Sudan.

That decision provoked an international outcry, including words of rebuke from President Barack Obama, and it raised doubts about the country's willingness to hand over Kenyan suspects expected to soon be charged by the ICC.

The ICC does not have its own police to enforce arrest warrants and it relies on member states such as Kenya to execute them.

Kenyan Cabinet leaders, including Wetangula, met with ICC Registrar Silvana Arbia on Friday.

"We have agreed to comply with every aspect of the (ICC) request for the privileges and immunity which their officers require to be able to undertake their work," said Minister of State for Internal Security George Saitoti, who chairs the Cabinet subcommittee on the ICC.

"I trust that the government of Kenya will fully respect its obligations under the Rome Statute," which established the ICC, Arbia said after receiving the letter.

The ICC registrar has been in Kenya since Wednesday to seek government assurances it will cooperate with the court and educate the public about how it operates.

Moreno Ocampo has said he believes crimes against humanity were committed during Kenya's political violence.

The court allowed him to open an investigation in April and he has said he expects the investigation to conclude by the end of this year. Moreno Ocampo has said he expects to charge up to roughly a half-dozen people who allegedly directed the violence.