Subject: RT: US Yanks 3 Out of East Timor in Anti-Int'l Criminal Court Fight

Also: U. S. Military Personnel in the UN Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET)

US Yanks 3 Out of East Timor in Anti-Court Fight

Jul 1, 5:50 pm ET

By Irwin Arieff

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Washington said on Monday it was pulling all three U.S. soldiers out of a U.N. force in East Timor to back up its hard-line threat to kill off U.N. missions one by one until its concerns about a new global war crimes court were met.

"It has started in East Timor. We are pulling out our three peacekeepers there," a U.S. official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

But U.S. officials had no quick answer when asked what it would do about another 75 Americans in East Timor who were helping train the new Asian nation's nascent police force.

The other 14 members of the 15-nation U.N. Security Council and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan insist that the treaty creating the court provides adequate protection for U.S. and other peacekeepers.

The U.S. move came a day after Washington used its veto power in the council to kill off the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Bosnia, only to relent within hours and agree to keep the mission alive until Wednesday midnight (0400 GMT on Thursday).

The high-stakes game of brinkmanship between Washington and the rest of the council has been driven by U.S. antipathy for the new International Criminal Court, which came into force on Monday.

The court was created to pursue heinous wrongdoing such as gross human rights abuses, genocide and war crimes. As of late Monday, 76 countries had ratified the 1998 treaty creating the court, agreeing to open their territory to its jurisdiction. The latest were Australia and Honduras, on Monday.

But the United States, while it has rejected the treaty, says it still fears politically motivated or frivolous prosecution of its peacekeepers and other officials who might find themselves in a country that has ratified it.

'UNACCEPTABLE RISKS'

Washington has asked the council to pass a resolution granting U.S. peacekeepers blanket immunity from the court.

Failing that, it has threatened to veto the renewal of U.N. peacekeeping missions, as they come up throughout the year, unless each one provides for U.S. immunity.

The council has been divided 14-1 on the issue since Washington first brought it up in May when the East Timor mission came up for renewal. The council refused at that time to go along with a U.S. request for immunity.

The resolution to renew the Bosnia mission was the next to come up, and U.S. officials said Sunday's rare veto was intended to impress on its fellow council members the gravity with which Washington viewed the matter.

"The United States vetoed the Bosnia peacekeeping extension, not from lack of commitment to Bosnia or to peacekeeping, but because the council has continued to fail to address the unacceptable risks that are posed for U.S. peacekeepers by the International Criminal Court," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington.

"The United States does not recognize the jurisdiction of this court. We are determined that our citizens not be exposed to legal jeopardy before the International Criminal Court as a result of participating in peacekeeping. A solution has to be found," Boucher told reporters.

But the 14 other members of the Security Council said no resolution of the standoff was yet in sight.

"The idea that with a U.S. veto, we're all going to turn around on this is a serious miscalculation," said one council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Several envoys raised the question of how Washington would respond when the council considers renewing the U.N. mission in southern Lebanon, which polices the volatile border between Israel and Lebanon.

Shutting down that mission would have serious implications for close U.S. ally Israel, they warned.

The envoys also wondered why the United States pulled three soldiers out of East Timor but left thousands of other U.S. troops in place around the world if Washington was truly convinced that they were vulnerable to prosecution.


Full text of media advisory provided by the U.S. Embassy in Dili
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE

Office of the Spokesman

For Immediate Release July 1, 2002

2002/580

Question Taken at July 1, 2002 Daily Press Briefing

U. S. Military Personnel in the UN Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET)

Question: How many U. S. military personnel are currently assigned to the UN Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET)?

Answer: The U.S. has three unarmed military observer positions in the UN Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET); two American officers are currently assigned. A third U.S. observer departed East Timor approximately two weeks ago.

Question: Are the two U. S. military observers being withdrawn from the UN Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET)?

Answer: The military observers will be rotating out of UNMISET shortly in line with their scheduled tour, most likely within the next couple of weeks. There are no plans to fill the three vacancies that will be left.

Question: Is our decision not to send any replacements for the observers that have been pulled out of UNMISET the result of the U. S. government's concern about the International Criminal Court?

Answer: We have made it very clear that if our concerns about the potential vulnerability of American personnel to ICC action were not adequately addressed, we would consider withdrawing U.S. officers from East Timor. We are actively reviewing operations in which we currently participate to determine the level of U.S. interests being served by our participation.

Question: Will they still leave if something is worked out in New York on UNMIBH/SFOR? [UN Mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina] That is, is their departure definite or conditional?

Answer: We want to ensure that our people are covered in whatever mission they might be serving. What happens with the observers in East Timor will depend on what happens in New York over the next few days.

Question: How does the withdrawal of the military observers in East Timor impact USGET?

Answer: UNMISET and U.S. Support Group East Timor are completely distinct. United States forces assigned to USGET in East Timor and those conducting rotational presence operations operate under U.S. command and control and U.S. rules of engagement. There are no plans at this time to terminate USGET operations.

Question: What protections do these troops have?

Answer: We are having bilateral discussions with the new Government of East Timor for a Status of Forces Agreement.


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