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U.S. Asks For Immunity in Colombia

by the Associated Press, 15 August 2002


WASHINGTON (AP) -- The United States is seeking an agreement with Colombia to protect American military personnel in the South American country against prosecution by the International Criminal Court, the State Department said Thursday.

Marc Grossman, the department's third-ranking official, raised the issue with Colombian authorities during a Wednesday visit to Bogota, the capital.

Department spokesman Philip Reeker noted that the Bush administration is seeking such agreements with a number of countries to ensure there will be no prosecutions for alleged rights abuses by American soldiers.

U.S. officials are worried about politically motivated prosecutions.

The United States maintains hundreds of troops in Colombia, mostly for training of troops for counternarcotics activities.

Reeker, recalling comments by Secretary of State Colin Powell, said the administration is not resorting to threats in its attempts to secure immunity for American servicemen overseas.

Under a new law, U.S. military aid would be cut off to countries that have ratified the treaty creating the court, except those granted a waiver. Countries granting an immunity pledge will continue to receive aid.

U.S. Seeks Court Immunity for Troops in Colombia U.S. Trying to Protect Nationals from International Courts

by Scott Wilson, Washington Post, 15 August 2002


BOGOTA, Colombia, Aug. 14 -- Senior U.S. officials asked President Alvaro Uribe today to shield U.S. military trainers in Colombia from prosecution by the International Criminal Court for any human rights abuses that may arise in connection with their work.

The request, made by Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman, is part of a global campaign by the United States to prevent U.S. nationals from being subjected to the international court. Arguing that future military aid hangs in the balance, U.S. diplomats have begun working here and with other allies to arrange such immunity agreements, which are allowed under the treaty setting up the court.

Under anti-terrorism legislation signed by President Bush this month, U.S. military aid would be cut off to countries that have ratified the treaty, except those granted a waiver by the White House. The United States has made it clear that governments granting an immunity pledge to U.S. citizens will continue to receive aid.

"That turns out to be the way people advised us to protect ourselves," said a senior U.S. official here before meeting with Uribe today. "We'd like to get it signed as soon as possible."

The Bush administration has opposed the treaty and is seeking the immunity agreements, U.S. officials have said, because it fears that U.S. soldiers and other citizens could be subjected to politically motivated prosecutions abroad.

The issue has special importance for the Colombian government, which formally recognized the court on Aug. 5. Uribe, who was sworn into office two days later, is relying on U.S. aid to help him wage a broader military campaign against leftist guerrillas who have been fighting for years to replace the government with a Marxist state.

Colombia's 38-year war, rooted in social inequality and a culture of impunity, is being fueled by drug profits in the security vacuum left by a weak central government. The conflict matches the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and a second, smaller Marxist-oriented insurgency against the U.S.-backed military and a privately funded paramilitary group that fights by its side. Last year, 3,500 people died as a direct result of the war, most of them civilians.

Colombia, the third-largest recipient of U.S. military aid, has received nearly $2 billion in U.S. assistance over the past two years. The nearly 80 transport helicopters and hundreds of U.S. military trainers, among other aid, were initially meant to help the Colombian government attack the thriving drug trade.

As part of the anti-terrorism package signed this month, the military equipment donated by the United States can now be used directly against guerrilla forces. The package also included $6 million to train a new Colombian army unit to protect an oil pipeline in eastern Colombia that is a frequent rebel target. Another $500 million in aid has been proposed for Colombia in the 2003 budget.

Only two countries -- Israel and Romania -- have agreed to immunity pledges and the U.N. Security Council recently granted immunity for one year to U.S. troops participating in international peacekeeping forces. The Colombian government did not give Grossman an immediate response.

"We haven't made any decision on this yet," said a senior Colombian diplomat, who predicted that it would prompt congressional hearings here. "Our understanding is that this goes beyond the Security Council's decision."

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations foreign operations subcommittee who drafted the human rights requirements for U.S. aid to Colombia, said, "I support using safeguards in the [court] treaty to protect Americans against political prosecutions, but I am concerned with the message this sends to the Colombian government when we are urging them to do more to protect human rights."

Each of Colombia's three irregular armies is on the State Department list of foreign terrorist organizations, the "nexus between counter-narcotics and counterterrorism" that a senior U.S. official said today justifies the changed aid rules. But U.S. and Colombian officials consider the FARC, which now numbers 18,000 armed members, the largest threat to the government's stability.

Allowing the Colombian military greater leeway in using the military aid has also increased the U.S. role in designing strategy against the guerrillas. U.S. officials have advised Colombians on the use of military equipment in the anti-drug effort, mostly in operations in remote southern jungles, but now will be doing so with "a larger variety of missions," a senior U.S. official said.

Copyright © 2002 Associated Press
Copyright © 2002 The Washington Post Company
Reprinted for Fair Use Only.

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