EU ready to take over UN Bosnia mission, raps US
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union offered on Wednesday to take control of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Bosnia to prevent its collapse if last-minute talks with the United States failed to produce an accord on its future.
Negotiators have until midnight on Wednesday New York time to avert a U.S. threat to veto the mission's renewal unless U.S. peacekeepers are given exemption from the jurisdiction of a new global war crimes court.
Senior EU officials renewed their criticism of the U.S. veto threat and reaffirmed their commitment to the International Criminal Court, which came into force on Monday.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the EU was ready to speed up its timetable for taking over the 1,600-strong police mission run by the U.N. if the threat is carried out. Under present plans it is due to take charge of it next January.
"If the situation in the Security Council of the U.N. is such that the mission is over, we will be ready to take the responsibility of filling the gap until the moment when we had decided already to take it over," he told reporters in Brussels.
"I think we are in a position to accelerate the procedures if necessary. I hope very much an agreement will be found. But I think we...will do the utmost so that a vacuum is not created with an important mission in the Balkans," Solana said.
Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, said he regretted the U.S. opposition to the ICC.
"The EU fully supports the establishment of the International Criminal Court and sees it as a major progression in the development of international law," he told a news conference at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.
"I deeply regret that differing views on this court threaten to jeopardize the whole peacekeeping role of the United Nations. A solution must be found to prevent this while also respecting the statute of the court," he said.
Washington wants the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution placing U.S. personnel overseas beyond the court's reach or adding language to each mission's mandate shielding U.S. peacekeepers.
Speaking on a visit to Belgrade, the European Commissioner for External Relations Chris Patten said the 15-nation EU would not give in to U.S. pressure to weaken the court.
"We think the ICC is the most important advance in international rule of law since the establishment of the U.N. and we are not going to allow anyone to water down our commitment to the principle," he said.
"Eighty percent of the troops stationed in the western Balkans are from EU countries, so our commitment to stability is clear," Patten added.
U.S. envoys circulated a draft compromise text in the Security Council late on Tuesday, and hopes of a deal persisted as U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice met visiting Danish officials representing the EU.
The U.S. proposal would give 12 months' immunity for crimes by peacekeepers from any country that had not yet ratified the treaty establishing the war crimes court.
That would give accused peacekeepers ample time to return home to the jurisdiction of their national courts.
After 12 months, the court could pursue a peacekeeper only after a vote in the Security Council, where Washington has veto power along with Britain, France, Russia and China.
Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller was due to hold talks later on Wednesday with Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington.
Jacques Klein, the American who heads the U.N. mission in Bosnia, said earlier this week that the number of U.S. personnel in the force, at 46, was "very, very small" but warned that it would still be hard for the EU to take full control this year.
"It is coming in an uncomfortable period because we have an election coming up (in Bosnia) on October 5 where IPTF (U.N. police) play a key role in terms of monitoring police performance," he told Reuters.
Under current plans, the EU will field a 500-strong police task force from next January to train, supervise and inspect the police in the ethnically divided state, which, like other Balkan countries, hopes one day to join the European Union.
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