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Belgium to block anti-US lawsuit

Belgium will block a lawsuit filed in the country against US General Tommy Franks for alleged war crimes in Iraq.

Last Modified: 17 May 2003 20:08 GMT

Belgium will block a lawsuit filed in the country against US General Tommy Franks for alleged war crimes in Iraq.

Franks: responsible for actions  

Seventeen Iraqis and two Jordanians have filed a suit against General Franks under Belgium's "universal competence" law, which allows charges to be brought regardless of where the alleged crimes took place.

  

Guy Verhofstadt, the Belgian Prime Minister will call a special cabinet session next week to apply the new universal competence law and stop the suit against the general, said his adviser.

  

Verhofstadt considered the lawsuit to be "a political abuse of the universal competence law," said the adviser.

 

US pressure

  

In part because of US pressure, Belgian lawmakers in early April amended the law, enabling federal prosecutors to decide whether a suit can proceed.

  

The lawsuit against Franks was filed with the Brussels federal prosecutor, who will decide within a month whether to refer it to an investigating judge.

  

It was also lodged with the Belgian Justice Ministry, which could decide to pass it on to US prosecutors.

  

Lawyer Jan Fermon said when the suit was submitted it related to about 20 alleged crimes during the Iraq war, including three cases in which US troops are accused of firing on ambulances.

 

Lawyer Fermon: US is accountable

"General Franks is responsible as commander in chief for the way some of his men acted on the ground," he told reporters. "For instance, the use of cluster bombs on civilian areas is a war crime," he said.

     

Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel earlier criticised the war crimes lawsuit as an abuse of the law. Michel, a strong critic of the US-British war in Iraq, said, "There is a division of powers in Belgium and it is first up to the federal prosecutor to decide."

  

Some 30 current or former political leaders are facing legal action under the law, including Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and former US president George Bush.

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