Russia opposes referring Syrians to ICC now: official

MOSCOW Wed Feb 20, 2013 12:01am IST

An excavator is used to search for survivors after a Syrian army rocket attack on the rebel-held Jabal Badro district in the city of Aleppo February 19, 2013. REUTERS/Hamid Khatib

An excavator is used to search for survivors after a Syrian army rocket attack on the rebel-held Jabal Badro district in the city of Aleppo February 19, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Hamid Khatib

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - A senior Russian official said Moscow would not immediately back calls to refer suspected war criminals in Syria to the International Criminal Court, adding such a move would obstruct efforts to stop the violence.

U.N. investigators said on Monday that Syrian leaders they had identified as suspected war criminals should face the ICC in the Hague.

Because Syria is not party to the Rome Statute that established the ICC, the court can investigate the situation only if it receives a referral from the U.N. Security Council, in which Moscow is a permanent and a veto-wielding member.

"From our point of view, the priority task is to stop violence, start a political process ... To speak of necessity now to quickly put somebody in front of the ICC is not the path we should follow. At this stage it would be untimely and unconstructive," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told a news conference on Tuesday.

The investigators on Monday urged the U.N. Security Council to "act urgently to ensure accountability" for violations, including murder and torture, committed by both sides.

"We think both sides are responsible for that is happening in Syria in terms of human rights abuses," Gatilov said. "Attempts to put blame solely on the Syrian government are illegitimate because the opposition has also committed and is committing human rights violations."

Moscow, a long-time ally of Damascus, has blocked three U.N. Security Council resolutions that would have increased pressure on President Bashar al-Assad to end the violence which has seen nearly 70,000 people killed in almost two years.

Moscow on Tuesday said there had been some progress recently in Syria, where both sides of the conflict have started discussing the possibility of dialogue. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the situation had started "moving from a dead end."

Lavrov is to discuss the situation in Syria when he meets Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby and foreign ministers of Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon and Egypt who are due in Moscow for talks on Wednesday.

Russia's Emergencies Ministry also said a plane carrying 99 people, including Russians fleeing the war-torn Syria, left for Moscow on Tuesday from the city of Latakia on the Mediterranean Sea coast, Itar Tass news agency said.

(Writing by Thomas Grove and Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Jane Baird)

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