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EU foreign ministers moot referral of Syria to ICC

Sweden and Germany have called for the UN Security Council to forward the Syrian chemical weapons investigation to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The calls came as EU foreign ministers meeting in Vilnius, the capital of current EU president Lithuania, awaited a visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry, saying evidence pointed to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"There are many signs that the regime used the [chemical] weapons, said Defense Minister Juozas Olekas of Lithuania, which is also hosting a meeting of EU defense ministers in the Baltic capital.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, had issued his call on the fringe of the G2-0 summit in St. Petersburg late on Thursday, saying he had advocated that the UN Security Council issue a mandate for the ICC to investigate mass killings in Damascus on August 21.

"My impression is, that the dramatic situation has escalated to the extent, that a new attempt should be made," Westerwelle said, referring to recent atrocities in the civil-war between Assad's regime and Syrian rebel groups.

Although it is a civil-war, Syria's crisis can be referred to the ICC by the UN security council if the chemicals usage was intentional and directed against a civilian population, according to US international law professor Jonathan Granoff.

The United States, whose Congress votes next week on President Barack Obama's call for "limited" military strikes against Syria's Assad regime, says it has "high confidence" via intelligence that chemical weapons killed 1426 people.

A UN inspections team is currently analyzing probes taken in Damascus last week.

As EU ministers began their Vilnius consultations on Friday, Bildt told the news agency AFP that UN Security Council referral to the ICC was a possible route. "That is a way," Bildt said.

On Wednesday, former UN chief Kofi Annan led a call by a grouping including Nobel peace laureates known as "The Elders" that the US and its allies use the international legal system, primarily the ICC.

On Syria, the Security Council has been gridlocked, with Russia and China opposing any resolution that would endorse action by the US and another military strike advocate France.

Danish Foreign Minister Villy Soevndal said the best option would be for the UN Security Council to assume responsibility.

"The worst in the world would be a scenario where nothing happened, when Assad realized that he can do what he wants without consequences." Soevndal said.

An EU source at the Vilnius talks said France and Denmark were among the most vocal supporters of military intervention against the Assad regime, with Italy and Spain remained more skeptical.

Italy's navy on Friday dispatched a second warship to waters off Lebanon to assist some 1,100 Italian soldiers attached to the UN's peacekeeping mission, UNIFIL in southern Lebanon.

"This is the best possible asset to act quickly in case of an evacuation," said a navy spokesman.

ipj/rg (AFP, dpa, IPS, Reuters)