President Bush can add Bosnia to
 the US list of 'ICC-safe' countries  

Despite being caught between conflicting pressures from Washington and the EU, the Balkan country agreed not to hand over US citizens to the newly-established court.

 

The EU, a firm backer of the ICC, had warned Bosnia against signing the bilateral treaty saying it could jeopardise its desire to join the Union. 

 

Under the agreement, all US citizens in Bosnia as well as third-country nationals working for US military missions cannot be extradited to the ICC.

 

But nationals of other countries working for other US institutions as well as Bosnians working for any US employer can be prosecuted by the ICC. Bosnian officials said this was a concession obtained in negotiations.

 

Bosnia is the 35th state to sign such an accord with Washington. Washington has opposed the ICC fearing that US citizens would be vulnerable to "politically-motivated" prosecution.

 

The US has 1,500 peacekeepers in Bosnia and has played a key role in helping the country recover from the 1992-95 war against forces sponsored by neighbouring Croatia and Yugoslavia.

 

The Bosnian war was ended by a US-brokered peace deal and US troops participated in a NATO-led peacekeeping force in the country. Washington is also the largest single aid donor to Bosnia.  

 

Bosnian officials said they had little choice but to sign the accord because Washington had threatened to withdraw troops and sever various types of assistance.

 

Friday's deal was signed by Slobodan Kovac, the justice minister, and Clifford Bond, the US ambassador to Bosnia. The ceremony was also attended by Paul Wolfowitz, the US deputy defence secretary.

 

Show of gratitude

 

Dragan Covic, the Croat member of Bosnia's three-man inter-ethnic presidency which hosted the ceremony, expressed hope that parliament would ratify the deal within a month.

 

"Bosnia has demonstrated its gratitude for all the United States has been doing for the process of stabilisation in the country and its encouragement to push forward with the process...on Bosnia's path toward a united Europe," he said.

 

The Hague-based ICC is the world’s first permanent court set up to try cases of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.  Any country that refuses to sign a bilateral treaty to protect US citizens from the ICC stands to lose out on the superpower’s military assistance.

 

 Most of the 139 countries that signed the ICC's founding treaty, including all 15 European Union members, have resisted similar pressure from Washington.