Croatia Leans Toward Immunity for US Troops
Sarajevo (CNSNews.com) -- Croatia appears likely to give U.S. troops some sort of immunity from prosecution at the world's first international criminal court, though the U.S.-imposed deadline to do so passed almost two months ago.
"What we'd be willing to sign would be an agreement that would meet U.S. concerns and our legal obligations," said Croatian deputy foreign minister Ivan Simonovic by telephone from Zagreb. He said another round of talks was slated for this fall.
Croatia was one of three Balkan countries that did not sign a bilateral immunity agreement with the United States by the July 1 deadline.
Bush administration officials fear politically motivated prosecutions of U.S. citizens by the International Criminal Court (ICC), and therefore Congress introduced the American Servicemembers' Protection Act (ASPA), which bars military aid to countries that refuse to grant immunity to U.S. troops.
Several weeks ago, the U.S. suspended $47 million in military aid to 35 countries that had refused to sign by the deadline.
Simonovic said the money - which in Croatia's case amounts to $6 million to $7 million in State Department funds annually - is not the issue.
"It's far more important in some symbolic sense," he said. "The support of the United States and NATO membership is far more important than the military aid."
The other important issue, he said, is that Croatia has applied for membership in the European Union. The E.U. has stated that applicants should not undermine the 1998 Rome Agreement that created the international court.
"It is uncomfortable (for us) because we appreciate very much the relationship we have with the United States, and we have submitted our candidacy to the European Union," he said.
"There have been a couple of statements on behalf of the E.U. that the behavior of the candidate countries will be closely monitored with their obligations arising from the Rome treaty," he said.
Serbia and Montenegro officials have expressed similar concerns, but it appears that they will follow Croatia's lead. Most officials agree that they can ill afford to lose U.S. military aid.
Nearby Bulgaria has not agreed to the immunity deal. Reuters reported this summer that the government has shrugged off the $10 million in aid they were to receive from the U.S.
One of the four Balkan countries that did sign the deal was Bosnia and Herzegovina. Though media reports after the May 16 signing accused the government of caving in to U.S. pressure, a source in the country's foreign ministry said they signed because they didn't want to lose the 1,500 US peacekeepers stationed here.
"(Applying ASPA) to our country would ultimately affect the stay of the U.S. contingent to the NATO Stabilization Forces," said the source, who took part in the negotiations with the United States.
Macedonia, which escaped a near-civil war in 2001 thanks to prompt E.U. and U.S. intervention, signed just before the deadline.
Romania and Albania are the two other Balkan countries that have signed immunity agreements with the United States.
[Source: By Beth Kampschror, CNSNews.com Correspondent - CNS News - 19Aug03]
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