|The explosive debate on whether thousands of youths arrested over the post-election violence should be pardoned goes before the Cabinet on Thursday.
|Agriculture Minister, William Ruto. Photo/FILE
Disagreements over the calls for amnesty have the potential to split the grand coalition with ministers from the two main camps disagreeing publicly on the matter.
Those allied to ODM have said the youths should be pardoned while those allied to PNU oppose such calls, saying those who killed others or burnt property should face the law.
Over 1,200 people were killed during the violence sparked by the disputed presidential election results announced on December 30, 2007.
On Wednesday, Foreign minister, Moses Wetang’ula said the matter will be discussed during Thursday’s Cabinet session.
Information minister, Samuel Poghisio, allayed fears that there was a rift in the Cabinet over the handling of the post-election violence suspects.
“What we have witnessed is individual opinion of some MPs. Amnesty was never an issue of agreement or disagreement during the Annan talks,” he said.
According to him, individual ministers would support any decision that the Cabinet will make.
Though some of his constituents were among those arrested over the violence, Mr Poghisio said the matter will be sorted out but without applying blanket amnesty.
“Blanket amnesty will create more animosity,” he said.
Among the crimes committed during the month-long violence were mass murder — including the burning to death of 35 people in an Eldoret church and 12 others in a house in Naivasha — arson, looting, rapes and destruction of property.
Leaders from the regions most affected by the violence Wednesday claimed that more than 4,000 young people had been arrested and should be released.
However, key Government officials have said those who committed crimes punishable by the law should answer for their misdeeds.
They promised to speed up the trial of the youths languishing in police cells.
On Wednesday, Agriculture minister, William Ruto; assistant minister, Charles Keter; Gem MP, Jakoyo Midiwo and Chepalungu MP, Isaac Ruto, declared that the fate of the youths should be determined by a commission of inquiry into post-election violence and not courts of law.
“The people we are talking about here are the boys who came out to demonstrate against the disputed elections,” said Mr Ruto.
According to the minister, the youths were urged to take to the streets by ODM leaders to protest against the election results, in which the ECK declared President Kibaki winner, for a second and final term.
ODM disputed the results, saying its candidate, Mr Raila Odinga, had won the election.
“ODM called for protests and PNU ordered police to shoot at the youths to quell the protests.
“The police were as guilty as anyone. (ECK chairman Samuel) Kivuitu should also face criminal charges for triggering the violence and those who called for the protests,” Mr Ruto said.
However, Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs minister, Martha Karua, said the Annan-led talks were categorical that justice should prevail and people found to have participated in post-elections violence should face the law.
Ms Karua, a member of the mediation team like Mr Ruto, said crimes were committed during the fighting and the Government was expediting the trials to ensure that the innocent are released.
“This is a matter that decides whether our country is under the rule of law or the rule of the jungle. There is due process to be followed before the youths are released
“They are investigated, prosecuted and charged and those found innocent freed,” she said.
She ruled out blanket amnesty as demanded by ODM leaders, including Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
“We should start thinking about the people who were violated,” she said.
Ms Karua equated the demands to release the youths to asking the Government to open jail doors to release all criminals.
“It is very unfortunate that some ministers are advocating for blanket amnesty; that is not possible even before the international law.”
Public Works assistant minister, Dick Wathika said blanket amnesty will encourage impunity.
“Thorough investigations should be conducted and those who killed charged with murder.
“Those who set houses ablaze should face arson charges and those who only participated in riots and barricaded roads considered for amnesty,” Mr Wathika said.
Mr Midiwo asked Ms Karua and Mr Ruto to solve their differences over the matter through mediation instead of issuing contradictory statements.
“Why can’t Karua and Ruto negotiate and find a solution to this issue? Why are they giving contradictory statements?” he asked.
While demanding the unconditional release of the youths, he accused Rift Valley MPs of being insincere “because youths were arrested countrywide”.
Leaving them out
“They are using the youths to hit at the Government and Prime Minister Raila Odinga for leaving them out of Government,” he said.
Mr Keter and Mr Ruto claimed the youths were facing trumped up charges and said they will fight until they have been released.
“All these youths were picked from their houses on claims that they were involved in the political violence.
“We (MPs) are their products and this is the time we should pardon each other. We will not stop agitating for their release. We want them released,” said Mr Keter.