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Published: Thursday May 22, 2014 MYT 3:05:16 AM
Updated: Thursday May 22, 2014 MYT 3:06:37 AM

Russia calls U.N. vote on Syria 'publicity stunt,' vows to veto

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Russia dubbed as a "publicity stunt" a planned U.N. Security Council vote on Thursday on a resolution to refer Syria's civil war to the International Criminal Court, warning that the move would be detrimental to attempts to broker peace.

Moscow has long been against referring the Syrian conflict to The Hague-based ICC for possible prosecution of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin emphatically reinforced Moscow's position on Wednesday.

When asked if Russia planned to veto the French-drafted resolution, Churkin told reporters: "Yes we do."

"The fact that the resolution is going to a vote we regard as simply a publicity stunt, which will have a detrimental effect unfortunately on our joint efforts in trying to resolve politically the crisis in Syria," Churkin said.

Despite Russia's opposition, a senior U.N. Security Council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, described the planned vote as "the right thing to do." He said: "The time has come when the situation should be referred to ICC."

It will be Russia's fourth veto of a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria. Moscow has shielded its ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government from strong action by the 15-member council during the conflict.

International Syria mediator Lakhdar Brahimi is set to step down on May 31, frustrated that international deadlock over how to end the country's three-year civil war has hampered his attempts to negotiate a political settlement.

The ICC prosecutor cannot investigate the situation in Syria without a referral from the 15-member Security Council because Damascus is not a member of the Rome Statute that established court a decade ago. The Security Council has previously referred Libya and Darfur, Sudan to the international court.

U.N. investigators said in March that they had expanded their list of suspected war criminals from both sides in the civil war and that the evidence was solid enough to prepare any court indictment.

U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay told the Security Council last month that human rights violations by Syrian government forces "far outweigh" those by armed opposition groups.

The United States agreed to support the draft resolution after ensuring that Israel would be protected from any possible prosecution at the ICC related to its occupation of the Golan Heights in Syria, U.N. diplomats said.

Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in a 1967 war and annexed the strategic plateau in a move the world has not recognised. Syrian troops are not allowed in an area of separation, monitored by U.N. peacekeepers, under a 1973 ceasefire formalised in 1974.

Eleven countries on the Security Council are members of the International Criminal Court. The United States, Russia, China and Rwanda are not.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Tom Brown)

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