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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 April, 2003, 09:49 GMT 10:49 UK
US war crimes case 'going ahead'
US General Tommy Franks with coalition troops in Qatar, 28 April, 2003
US is angry at case against Franks

A Belgian lawyer is planning to press ahead with a war crimes lawsuit against US General Tommy Franks, despite American anger.

The suit, brought by 19 Iraqis, accuses General Franks of war crimes during the Iraq conflict.

Lawyer Jan Fermon, who is acting on behalf of the Iraqis, described the plaintiffs as victims of cluster bombs and of US attacks on ambulances and civilians.

There are 19 victims of the war so far that have come forward to back the case
Lawyer Jan Fermon

"We have a very specific case, with specific evidence," Mr Fermon said. "I do not see how they can reject it."

The case would be presented in court on 13 May, he said, including evidence which had been gathered by Belgian doctors working in Baghdad.

Mr Fermon said there were 17 "specific incidents" in which US soldiers and commanders had violated the law.

Belgium's war crimes legislation, allowing suits involving cases which happened abroad, has proved highly contentious since its introduction in 1993.

It has recently been softened to make it harder for cases to proceed.

This will only make it easier for the US to dismiss international courts as irrelevant in the future
Daniel, USA

High-profile cases, some of them highly embarrassing to the Belgian Government, have been brought against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and former US President George Bush.

Washington has reacted angrily to the prospect of General Franks being the subject of legal action.

The US State Department has told Belgium not to allow its laws to be used for "political ends".

The BBC's Justin Webb in Washington says Bush administration officials are making it plain they would regard a prosecution of General Franks as a major diplomatic incident - an example of political harassment.

A senior administration official warned that even the issuing of indictments would result in what he called "diplomatic consequences" for Belgium.

But Mr Fermon hit back at Washington.

"I think either the US State Department has nothing to hide, in which case it's very important for them to have an independent inquiry - and why can't it be a Belgian magistrate - or they have something to hide and that's why they are threatening Belgium," the lawyer said.

'Test case'

The lawsuit may end up being seen as a test case of what the altered war crimes law permits.

Under the changes, Belgium can pass some war crimes cases to the countries directly involved, and it has become harder for non-Belgian citizens to bring cases.

If the alleged victim or perpetrator is not Belgian, a prosecutor must now decide whether to ask an investigating magistrate to look at the case.

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