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US military aid stopped in international court dispute

02/07/2003 13:24
The US has stopped military aid to 35 countries, several of them future EU members, after their refusal to sign bilateral agreements with Washington exempting US nationals from the International Criminal Court (ICC).

This latest move, in an increasingly bitter tussle between the US and the Court's strongest allies, the Europeans, came directly after the deadline set by Congress for signing bilateral agreements expired at midnight on Monday (1 July).

Military aid has been halted for Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia - all set to join the EU next year, and Bulgaria - set to join the EU in 2007.

All six are scheduled to become NATO members and US money was being used to modernise their defence sectors.

For countries like Bulgaria and Latvia, this means losing 10 million US dollars.

Croatia is also no longer entitled to US aid.

One of the most affected countries is Columbia. The biggest Latin American recipient of US aid, it is set to lose about $5m in funding this fiscal year and more than $100m next year.

"This is a reflection of the United States' priority to protect the men and women in our military, men and women who serve," said Ari Fleischer, the president's spokesman, according to the Financial Times.

Media reports note that countries who strongly supported the US-led attack against Iraq are stunned to find themselves on the list as well.

Lithuania, who signed the US-supporting Vilnius 10 letter, is one of them.

The new restrictions involve $47 million in foreign military financing and $613,000 in military education and training, State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher said on Tuesday, quoted by CNN.

Romania, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, all EU hopefuls, have been given a waiver as they have signed agreements but have not yet ratified them.

Nato members and other key allies - such as Israel, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand - are exempt from any penalty if they refuse to do bilateral deals with the US.

Washington has concluded bilateral agreements with more than 50 nations to secure exemption for US troops.

The ICC was set up to prosecute international war criminals, but the US remains staunchly opposed to the Court fearing that it will be used for politically motivated prosecutions.

Last year, US President George W. Bush withdrew America's signature, one of Bill Clinton's last acts as president, from the Treaty of Rome, which established the ICC and was ratified by more than 90 countries.