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Police probe murder of witness in Kenyan vice president's ICC trial

© FRANCE 24 screen grab | Kenya's Vice President William Ruto at the start of his ICC trial in The Hague in September, 2013

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2015-01-06

Kenyan prosecutors have ordered an investigation into the murder of a witness in the International Criminal Court trial of Kenyan Vice President William Ruto, who is accused of masterminding post-election killings in 2007-2008.

Meshack Yebei, described by Ruto's lawyer as a "critical" witness for the politician's defence case, was found dead – and badly mutilated according to some reports – on January 4 in western Kenya's Nandi district.

Kenya's Director of Public Prosecutions Keriako Tobiko ordered the probe, calling for a "speedy and thorough investigation to be conducted into the murder with a view of bringing those responsible to justice."

Yebei, a local businessman, disappeared on December 28 and a week later his decomposed body was found in a river.

The Hague-based ICC said it was "deeply concerned" by the death and was ready to assist the Kenyan probe.

"The family of Mr Yebei has confirmed the identity of his body," the ICC said in a statement. "We express our profound condolences to the family."

The ICC stressed that Yebei was not on its prosecution witness list, but that he had been offered "security measures, including a safe residency".

Despite the offer, Yebei "returned to Eldoret (in Nandi) where the incident reportedly took place," the ICC said in a statement.

"Ensuring the safety and security of witnesses is a cornerstone of fair trials," said ICC registrar Herman von Hebel.

Ruto has been on trial at the ICC since September 2013 on charges of organising post-election violence in the east African country in 2007-2008. More than 1,200 people died and 600,000 were displaced in the chaos.

But both Ruto and co-defendant Joshua Arap Sang, a radio presenter, have denied all charges.

Mass allegations of witness intimidation

Ruto's lawyer, Karim Khan, had branded Yebei a "critical witness to the defence," resulting in Yebei being referred to the ICC witness protection unit.

In a letter, he said the "news of his apparent abduction and murder is both shocking to us and a matter of grave concern."

Khan also called for DNA tests to confirm the identity of the corpse, saying it was "important for us that the facts and circumstances of his alleged killing be fully investigated."

Kenya's ICC investigations have been littered with allegations of witness intimidation, bribery and false testimony.

Several witnesses have pulled out of Ruto’s trial since it began.

Last month, charges against President Uhuru Kenyatta were dropped after the ICC prosecutor was ordered to either strengthen or abandon the case.

Kenyatta maintained his innocence throughout the proceedings and has vowed to fight on until charges are also dropped against Ruto and Arap Sang.

The 2007-2008 post-election violence laid bare simmering ethnic tensions in the country. The violence was mainly directed at members of Kenya's largest Kikuyu tribe, who were perceived as supporters of then president Mwai Kibaki's Party of National Unity (PNU).

The post-election killings are considered to be the worst in Kenya's history since winning independence from Britain in 1963.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Date created : 2015-01-06

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