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Security Council Considers Immunity Extension for US Peacekeepers - 2004-06-22

UN diplomats say the Security Council is working on a deal that would grant U.S. peacekeeping troops another year of immunity from international prosecution. But the one-year exemption to be voted on in the next few days is expected to be the last.

A compromise resolution being negotiated would give U.S. peacekeepers a controversial but final year of immunity from prosecution at the International Criminal Court.

The U.S.-sponsored resolution extending the immunity had appeared dead in light of international outrage at the Abu Ghraib prison abuse revelations. At least seven Security Council ambassadors had said they would abstain, enough to defeat the measure.

But the Council president, Philippine Ambassador Lauro Baja, said efforts to revive the measure began after Secretary-General Kofi Annan made an appeal for unity. "There was a request from the presidency to take an initiative to prevent division in the council, and in answer to the secretary-general's statement that we should, now that council is unanimous, after the Iraq resolution, to avoid any instances of division in the council," he said.

Ambassador Baja said a vote on the measure could come as early as Friday.

The Security Council granted the exemption unanimously two years ago after the Bush administration threatened to cut off funding for peacekeeping operations. Last year, the exemption was continued for another 12-month period, with three countries - France, Germany and Syria - abstaining.

This year, following revelations that detainees were abused at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, that opposition skyrocketed.

Secretary General Annan - a consistent opponent of immunity - said extending the exemption for U.S. troops would be unwise in light of the Abu Ghraib revelations. But while saying any grant of blanket immunity would be wrong, Mr. Annan signaled his acceptance of a compromise when he urged the Council to preserve the unity it achieved earlier this month on Iraq.

But diplomats say even if the measure does pass, it will not be unanimous. France and Germany have made clear they will abstain under any circumstances. China is also planning to withhold its vote.

Several other countries are said to reconsidering their positions, but diplomats say they expect the extension to win at least the nine votes needed for adoption.