The diplomatic row that has left over 700 British soldiers stranded in Nairobi has taken a new twist with reports that the UK has hit back by expelling five senior military officers.
Kenyan government sources Tuesday told The Standard that London had ordered the officers, who were undergoing training in the UK, to return home immediately.
The highly placed sources said that visas for the soldiers, who were yet to complete their training, were cancelled. The officers have reportedly already arrived in the country.
“I think its tit-for-tat by the British who have asked our men to immediately leave,” the source said, adding that this was part of the UK’s pressure on Kenya over the renewal of Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to allow more British troops to come to the country.
The existing MoU will expire in April next year and Kenya has introduced new terms, which the UK is said to be uncomfortable with.
The bone of contention, according to sources, is the Government’s demand that British soldiers who train in Kenya should be held accountable for any crimes they commit while in the country.
The current MoU protects the soldiers from any form of prosecution, but the Government has now made it clear that soldiers are not diplomats and therefore do not enjoy immunity under the Vienna Convention.
Apart from any crimes the soldiers may commit, Kenya also wants soldiers who engage in relationships and bear children with locals, to be made to pay for the children’s upkeep.
Tuesday, Foreign Affairs PS Karanja Kibicho downplayed the diplomatic row but confirmed that there was “one or two issues” which they have yet to agree on before signing the MoU.
“The current MoU expires in April next year and it will be irresponsible to report that we have refused to clear any soldier to leave or come (to Kenya),” he said.
However, the PS said that Kenya will not sign any MoU or agreement that will go against the provisions of the Constitution.
“The Constitution of Kenya only shields the President from prosecution while in office and since this agreement will be implemented in Kenya, it’s important that it complies with the supreme law that demands for accountability from everyone,” Kibicho said. The PS maintained that Kenya will not back down from this position.
When asked about the requirement that British soldiers who sire children in Kenya should pay for their upkeep, the PS refused to comment only saying that any agreement Kenya will enter into must comply with the Constitution. The Kenyan law states that both parents of a child have equal rights and responsibilities on the minor.
Under the current agreement, six British battalions carry out six-week exercises in Kenya every year. There are also three Royal Engineer Squadron exercises which carry out civil engineering projects and two medical company group deployments which provide primary health care assistance to the civilian community.
In the past, the soldiers have been accused of committing crimes such as assault and in some instances rape, offences which go unpunished due to the immunity they are accorded under the existing MoU.
Last week, The Standard reported that hundreds of soldiers were stranded due to this row.
The soldiers were supposed to leave Kenya on Thursday aboard a military plane that was to arrive with another group from Britain.
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The British soldiers have been moved to Kahawa Barracks from Nanyuki. Reports in the British press indicate that UK is planning to transport them back home using commercial airlines.
Last week, British Embassy Spokesperson Stephen Burns confirmed there is “a small diplomatic issue that he hoped will be resolved soon in regard to the soldiers’ training”.