US pulls personnel from UN mission in Eritrea
WASHINGTON - The U.S. military will pull
tiny contingents out of two U.N. peacekeeping missions because they are no
longer exempt from international prosecution for war crimes, a Pentagon spokesman
A seven-person team will be removed from
the U.N. mission to keep the peace between the African nations of Eritrea and Ethiopia,
and two liaison officers will be taken out of the U.N. mission in Kosovo,
spokesman Larry Di Rita told reporters at a new conference.
"It was determined ... that the risk
was not appropriate to our forces, and so they were withdrawn," Di Rita
Four Americans assigned to the Eritrea-Ethiopia
mission will leave immediately while three others, in senior positions, will
leave once replacements are found, Di Rita said.
The main U.S. mission to Kosovo, numbering
about 2,200 troops, will not be affected because separate agreements exempt
them from war crimes prosecution, Pentagon officials said.
The move follows the Bush administration's
decision last week not to seek a new exemption from prosecutions at the
International Criminal Court, which started operating last year in The Hague , Netherlands.
The war crimes tribunal was created as a
court of last resort and will step in only when countries are unwilling or
unable to dispense justice themselves. Its supporters say that makes it highly
unlikely that an American would be prosecuted.
Yet the Bush administration has argued
that the court could be used for frivolous or politically motivated
prosecutions of American troops.
The U.S. government is not a member of the
court, but some countries with a U.S. presence are. Washington has signed 90
bilateral agreements that bar prosecution of U.S. officials by the court for
war crimes, but that doesn't include the areas the nine people will be leaving,
Di Rita said.
Until Wednesday, when it expired, American
officials operated under an exemption preventing international prosecution for
war crimes. Washington abandoned its attempt to extend the exemption in the
face of strong opposition because of the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan also had
raised serious doubts about the legality of an exemption but had expressed hope
the Americans would not leave peacekeeping missions.
U.S. troops in Iraq are not subject to the
court because neither the United States nor Iraq is a member.
Di Rita said all U.N. peacekeeping
missions with a U.S. presence are under review. AP