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UN Security Council to Hold Day-Long Debate on New International Court - 2002-07-08

In a bid to bring more pressure on the United States, the U.N. Security Council will hold a day-long public debate Wednesday on U.S. demands that its peacekeepers be kept beyond the reach of the new international criminal court.

It is expected to be a marathon session, with many governments lining up against the U.S. position. Security Council diplomats say the idea is to get Washington to back away from its demands for immunity.

The United States is holding up a six-month extension of a U.N. mission in Bosnia until the Council exempts American soldiers and officials from prosecution by the new court.

Security Council president Jeremy Greenstock of Britain said, "Members of the Council want to hear the views of members of the United Nations, and there will be an open debate to hear the views of non-members of the Council. There will certainly be discussions in the corridors before then, and consultations after that."

The Council is facing another deadline for the Bosnian mission of July 15. The United States agreed on two short-term extensions, while negotiations continue on meeting its concerns. Washington says its position as sole superpower leaves it vulnerable to politically-motivated prosecutions.

The criminal court, which came into effect last week, is the world's first permanent legal forum for trying cases of genocide and other heinous human rights violations. It is supported by the vast majority of nations. Nearly 140 countries have signed the treaty creating the court. More than 75 governments have ratified it.

Even those governments that have said they understand Washington's concerns want to find a way out that does not place the court as an obstacle to U.N. peacekeeping operations.

The United States has threatened to use its veto to challenge U.N. missions, one by one, as they come up for renewal, if the Security Council does not give U.S. peacekeepers immunity.