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US Links Extension of Bosnia Mission, Exemption from UN Criminal Court - 2002-06-29

A U.N. peacekeeping mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina could end prematurely at midnight Sunday night if the United States carries out a threat to veto its extension in the U.N. Security Council. The issue dividing the United States from the other 14 Council members is a newly created international criminal court, which the Bush administration opposes.

The United States wants the Security Council to put U.N. peacekeepers out of reach of the new criminal court by granting them immunity from prosecution. It says it will not compromise. U.S. diplomats are prepared to veto the extension of the Bosnia mission unless the council accedes to Washington's demand.

The rest of the council does not seem to be in a compromising frame of mind either. Although various proposals are being considered to win U.S. support, council diplomats say they will not do anything to undermine the new court, which has been hailed widely as a monumental achievement in international law.

The court comes into being July 1. It is the first permanent legal forum to try cases of genocide, war crimes, and other gross human rights abuses.

The Bush administration has renounced the treaty establishing the court, which 139 governments have signed, saying it opens the door to politically motivated prosecutions of U.S. officials and soldiers who serve outside U.S. borders. U.N. officials and many legal experts dismiss the scenario as highly unlikely.

The Bosnia operation, whose main task is training a multi-ethnic police force in Bosnia, would have been discontinued anyway in six months, with training responsibilities turned over to the Europeans. But spokesman Fred Eckhard says a premature end to the mission could have dire consequences for a country still struggling to set up a system of law and order.

"The risk, of course, is that a sudden, abrupt termination of the U.N. mission without a careful handover to the new mission could cause a gap," he explained. "And I do not know whether this Bosnian police force is ready to stand on its own two feet alone."

Many diplomats believe Bosnia needs more international supervision because internal political pressures in the country could interfere with the creation of a truly independent police force.

Supporters of the new criminal court have accused the Bush administration of trying to torpedo the criminal court, not save U.N. peacekeeping. They propose that Washington could meet its concerns by simply pulling Americans out of U.N. operations.

But the Bush administration apparently is not willing to disengage. American diplomats say the United States wants to stay involved in peacekeeping, just not in the shadow of the new court.