Belgium tries to appease US and Israel

NATO officials are confident that a mutually acceptable solution will be found to an escalating row between the US and Belgium over the European country's unique war crimes law.

    NATO chief Lord Robertson:
    confident of a resolution

    The 1993 law allows courts in Belgium to try suspects accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, regardless of where the alleged acts were committed and of the nationality of the accused or victims.

    A number of lawsuits have been filed in Belgium under the law, including against former US president George Bush, US commander Tommy Franks, and former commander Norman Schwarzkopf.

    On Thursday, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld threatened to suspend funding for a new $300 million NATO headquarters to be built in Brussels a day after calling the law "absurd".

    Now the row has dragged in NATO's leading official.

    Meeting in the Belgium capital on Friday, NATO chief George Robertson conveyed optimism that an agreement would be reached between all sides regarding the law.

    “I’m sure a mutual convenient solution can be found,” he said.

    Robertson also said that the Belgium law was of concern to all North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) members, not only the United States.

    "This is not about a bilateral argument between the Americans and the Belgians...the issue here is a bigger one than just one country and the Alliance."

    "The Americans have made it clear they will not allow any expenditure during the next six months and we'll obviously want to see what implications that would have for the project as a whole," said Robertson.

    Israeli indictment

    But in another development, Belgian officials said they would transfer to Israel a war crimes investigation into the alleged involvement of an Israeli general in the 1982 massacre of Palestinians in Lebanon.

    "The procedure has been started in the case of Amos Yaron," a spokesman for the Belgian Foreign Ministry said.

    A Brussels court earlier this week ruled the complaint against Yaron admissible. The complaint had been dissociated from a frozen lawsuit against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who is currently immune to prosecution.

    Analysts suggest transferring this case to an Israeli court is an effort to ease strained relations between Israel and Belgium since the lawsuit was filed against Sharon. It is also step towards appeasing US demands to abolish the law.

    A recent amendment to the law, which also followed heavy US pressure, allows Belgium to send a lawsuit to the defendant's country if that country has a legal system which guarantees proper handling of the complaint.

    In 1967, NATO moved its headquarters to Brussels from Paris after France pulled out of NATO’s integrated military command structure.


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