- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 20, 2003

From combined dispatches

BRUSSELS — The Belgian government decided yesterday to let American prosecutors handle a lawsuit filed in Brussels against the U.S. commander in the Iraq war for supposed war crimes, government officials said.

The Belgian government made the decision on the advice of the federal prosecutor’s office, where the suit was filed last week against Gen. Tommy Franks, the office of Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said.

Seventeen Iraqis and two Jordanians filed the suit under Belgium’s “universal competence” law, which allows charges to be brought against anyone, regardless of where the purported crimes took place.

But under a recent amendment to the law, the court can decline to hear cases where courts in the home government of the accused person are considered competent to deal with the matter. The amendment was passed early last month, in part due to U.S. pressure.

The lawsuit charges that U.S. troops fired on ambulances, did not show due care in avoiding civilian casualties and failed to safeguard Iraq’s cultural heritage.

The United States had called the charges “ludicrous” and demanded that the Belgian government move to dismiss the case. The Belgian government on Saturday pledged to block the suit, which Mr. Verhofstadt called “a political abuse of the universal competence law.”

Foreign Minister Louis Michel said when the suit was filed last week that it “can be considered as a test case [for the new law], so we are very curious to see what will happen.”

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