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Dispute May End U.N. Role in Bosnia

Diplomacy: U.S. clashes with allies in a failed bid to win global court immunity, then vetoes an extension of Balkans peacekeeping mission.


UNITED NATIONS — In a rare and heated confrontation with its closest allies on the Security Council, the United States moved Sunday to halt U.N. peacekeeping operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina after the council refused to grant U.S. participants immunity from the new International Criminal Court.

Drastic American action is necessary to protect U.S. peacekeepers from "politicized prosecutions before a court whose jurisdiction over our people the government of the United States does not accept," U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte said shortly before vetoing what was once expected to be a routine six-month extension of the Bosnian missions, established in the wake of a U.S.-brokered peace pact in 1995.

The International Criminal Court entered into legal force today, despite U.S. opposition, and Sunday's veto was part of a continuing Bush administration campaign to shield U.S. soldiers and officials abroad from court prosecutions.

"This decision is not directed at the people of Bosnia," Negroponte told the council, suggesting that the missions there might be continued without U.N. resources or leadership.

"We will stand by them and by our commitment to peace and stability in the Balkans. The fact that we are vetoing this resolution in the face of that commitment, however, is an indication of just how serious our concerns remain about the risks to our peacekeepers."

The U.S. veto Sunday capped weeks of negotiations with Britain and France, fellow veto-wielding members of the council and strong backers of the new court. But the allies failed to avert a collision with Washington on the issue. The United States is the only member of the United Nations to announce its intention to protect all of its citizens from prosecution by the international court.

"While we understand the U.S. concerns concerning the court, we do not share them," Jeremy Greenstock, the British ambassador here, said crisply after the U.S. veto. In the council debate that preceded the U.S. veto, Greenstock and other European ambassadors argued that the International Criminal Court treaty protects peacekeeping forces from democracies with strong independent judiciaries.

Privately, European diplomats have voiced mounting resentment in recent weeks at what they describe as intense U.S. pressure to grant American soldiers and officials abroad blanket protection from the court, which has now been ratified by every member of the European Union.

Such a move would undercut the court before it begins work, the Europeans argue. Giving any peacekeepers immunity from war crimes and genocide prosecutions would be especially damaging to the court's authority in places like Bosnia, East Timor and Central Africa, they say.

"I think the Americans are convinced that their concerns are not being taken seriously, but we think that our commitment to the court is not being taken seriously," said one European diplomat, who asked not to be named.

After the U.S. veto, council members scrambled to arrange what U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called "an orderly wind-down" of the U.N.'s Bosnia operations, which include a 1,500-strong police training mission with 46 U.S. members and a larger force, endorsed by the U.N. but led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, with 2,500 U.S. troops. The council agreed to extend both for 72 hours, until midnight Wednesday, but diplomats said this was only to give force leaders time to end or reorganize their operations.

The U.N. mission in Bosnia is coming "to an abrupt end for reasons that are unrelated to the vitally important work that it is performing to implement the Dayton peace agreement," Annan said after the U.S. voted against the extension.

Without its U.N. mandate, which includes direct U.N. financing and management, the police training mission in Bosnia would have to cease operations entirely, officials here had said earlier. But the European Union, which was scheduled to assume control of the mission in 2003, might be able to accelerate its takeover, Annan suggested Sunday.

The NATO force could remain in place under its own authority, American diplomats here said, adding that the United States has no immediate plans to withdraw its troops. But because of statutory or constitutional constraints, Germany, Ireland and other contributors cannot participate in peacekeeping forces that lack explicit U.N. authorization, according to U.N. legal advisors. Commanders of NATO forces in Bosnia plan to discuss the dispute in a meeting in Brussels today, Greenstock said.

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