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July 20, 2003 

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US links military aid with war crimes exemptions

The United States will suspend military aid to about 35 countries that didn't exempt U.S. troops from prosecution before the new UN international war crimes tribunal. Among the countries cut off is Colombia, the main supplier of cocaine and heroin to the United States, where some assistance for fighting drugs and terrorists could be in jeopardy.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the military aid cut-offs are "a reflection of the United States' priorities to protect" its troops. "These are the people who are able to deliver assistance to the various states around the world and if delivering aid to those states endangers America's servicemen and servicewomen, the president's first priority is with the servicemen and servicewomen," he said. Overall, about $48 million in aid will be blocked, said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.
Congress set a July 1 deadline for most recipients of U.S. military aid to exempt U.S soldiers and other personnel from prosecution before the new UN International Criminal Court. President George W. Bush's administration fears the court could leave U.S. personnel subject to false, politically motivated prosecutions.
Created under a 1998 treaty, the court was established to prosecute genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity cases against nationals of countries unwilling or unable to try the cases themselves.
Former president Bill Clinton's administration signed the treaty but the Bush administration nullified the signature and has sought a permanent exemption from prosecutions. Those efforts have been blocked by the European Union, though the UN Security Council last year gave the United States a second one-year exemption.
U.S. diplomats have pressed allies to approve bilateral agreements exempting Americans. Advocates of the court have accused the U.S. administration of trying to bully weaker countries and undermining an important advance in human rights.
Under the law approved by Congress last year, at least 27 foreign states were exempted from the military-aid cut-off, including the 18 other members of the NATO military alliance and the two largest recipients of military aid, Israel and Egypt. Bush also could exempt countries if he deemed it in the U.S. national interest.
The Bush administration did not identify the countries whose aid will be suspended. Boucher said the list would be provided first to Congress. The U.S. State Department has identified 44 of the more than 50 countries that have signed agreements to exempt Americans from prosecution. Not all of the 44 countries were military aid recipients or are participating in the court.
The White House identified six countries that received full waivers: Gabon, Gambia, Mongolia, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Tajikistan. Sixteen more received waivers until November 1 or January 1 to give them time to complete their ratification processes.
Mongolia, Senegal, Botswana and Nigeria received waivers though the U.S. State Department had not identified them as signing exemption agreements. The State Department did not say why they were included.
The aid suspensions are not likely to have a dramatic effect right away. Not all military assistance programs are affected. Also, with only three months remaining in the U.S. government fiscal year, most of the money budgeted for 2004 has already been spent.

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