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July 2, 2003

Cape Times

The United States has suspended military aid to South Africa because the country will not give Americans immunity from prosecution by the new International Criminal Court in The Hague.

The announcement by the US state department in Washington on Tuesday came a week before American President George Bush's state visit to South Africa on July 8 and 9.

South Africa is among 35 countries blacklisted by the US on Tuesday.

It is the only one of the five countries on the itinerary for Bush's African tour to be blacklisted. Botswana, Uganda, Senegal and Nigeria have signed immunity agreements with the US and are to continue receiving military aid.

The aid suspended by the US is about $47-million (about R350-million) of an annual foreign military aid budget of $4-billion.

Twelve other countries, which have not been given US military aid this year, have been prohibited from receiving any.

The US fears the International Criminal Court could become a forum for politically motivated prosecutions of Americans.

South African foreign ministry spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa said the government was studying the announcement.

"We will comment later. We are studying the implications of that decision," he said.

Bush is due in South Africa on Tuesday. He is to be accompanied by his secretary of state, Colin Powell.

The decision to suspend aid is the latest attack by the Bush administration on the court, set up last year to try people for war crimes and acts of genocide. The US signed the 1998 treaty creating the court, but Bush has rescinded the signature.

Under last year's American Service Members Protection Act - the basis for the suspension - Bush may issue waivers for governments that sign the exemption deals or when he thinks military aid is in the national interest.

Bush issued waivers for 22 countries on Tuesday as the deadline passed for governments to sign exemption agreements.

But these 22 did not include Colombia, one of the largest aid recipients, and the eastern European countries of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia.

Forty-four governments have acknowledged signing the agreements and at least seven others have signed secret agreements, US officials say.

The US had disbursed most of the military aid for this year, so the effect would not become apparent before the start of the new fiscal year in October, state department spokesperson Richard Boucher told a briefing.

Richard Dicker, director of the international justice programme at Human Rights Watch, said the suspension "has brought resentment and bitterness from some of the US government's closest allies and comes at an extraordinarily high price".

It also worked against some of the Bush administration's other policy goals, such as intercepting drugs in the Caribbean and extending Nato into eastern Europe.

But White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer said the Bush administration would not compromise. "This is a reflection of the United States priorities to protect the men and women in our military," he said. - Sapa


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