Selected postings from east-timor (reg.easttimor)

Subject: WP: U.S. Peacekeepers May Leave E. Timor; Immunity Sought From War Crimes Court

The Washington Post Saturday, May 18, 2002

U.S. Peacekeepers May Leave E. Timor

Immunity Sought From War Crimes Court

By Colum Lynch Special to The Washington Post

UNITED NATIONS, May 17 -- The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations warned the Security Council today that Washington may withdraw a small contingent of American peacekeepers in East Timor unless they receive formal immunity from criminal prosecution by the new international war crimes court, according to U.S. and other council diplomats.

The threat, issued in a closed-door session of the 15-nation council, was made after several council members, including Washington's closest allies, rejected a U.S. proposal to extend criminal immunity to all former or current U.N. personnel serving in the mission.

The United States officially introduced the proposal for the first time as an amendment to a resolution extending the mandate of the U.N.'s peacekeeping mission in East Timor.

International peacekeepers were sent to East Timor in 1999 after a vote for secession from Indonesia set off a brutal round of bloodshed. The council's resolution calls for cutting 3,000 troops from the 8,000-strong mission and phasing it out over two years.

The United States last week renounced the International Criminal Court, which will be formally established in July, citing concerns that it may prosecute U.S. troops or other officials serving overseas. It said it would seek agreements around the world barring U.S. citizens from being extradited to the court.

The U.S. ambassador, John D. Negroponte, stopped short of blocking passage of the resolution. But he said the United States reserved the right to return to the council to make its case again before the court begins operations, diplomats said.

U.S. officials said they are seeking to establish a legal precedent in East Timor that could be applied to all U.N. peacekeeping missions. They said they may ultimately withdraw American citizens from all 15 United Nations peacekeeping missions.

There are three Americans in East Timor as unarmed military observers, about 80 U.S. police and an unknown number of civilian officials serving in the mission.

Britain, France, Norway, Ireland, Colombia and Guinea said the U.S. demands were unacceptable. "The U.S. amendment is a violation of the [ICC] treaty," said Jean-David Levitte, the French U.N. ambassador. "I would be in violation of [my country's] own laws if I supported a text that went against the International Criminal Court."

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