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Ecuador Refuses to Sign Immunity Pact for U.S. Forces

Associated Press | June 24, 2005

Ecuador will not sign an agreement with the United States granting U.S. military personnel special immunity from the International Criminal Court, even if refusing to do so means aid cuts from Washington, the foreign minister said Thursday.

"If the United States decides it cannot provide aid if we do not sign this, well, we very much regret that we will not receive the aid," Antonio Parra told Channel 6 television.

U.S. President George W. Bush's administration argues that the International Criminal Court, which started operating in 2003, could be used for frivolous or politically motivated prosecutions of American troops.

Last year, Bush signed into law a measure to cut off hundreds of millions of dollars (euros) in foreign aid to countries that belong to the court but have not signed a so-called bilateral immunity agreement with the United States.

As a result, Ecuador last year forfeited US$15.7 million (euro12.9 million) in aid, much of it for military equipment, according to Citizens for Global Solutions, a nonprofit organization promoting the international war crimes court, based in The Hague, Netherlands.

Parra said he doubted the Bush administration would take more drastic action against Ecuador - a key South American ally in Washington's battle against drug trafficking - for exercising its right to refuse to sign.

He warned if military funding is cut, "that will impede our armed forces' effectiveness in the entire struggle against terrorism and narcotics trafficking inside our national territory."

Since 1999, the United States has used an Ecuadorean air base near the Pacific port city of Manta as an operations center for drug surveillance flights in the region.

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