UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Security Council diplomats clashed Saturday over a proposal to refer the deadly crackdown against anti-government demonstrators in Libya to the International Criminal Court, council envoys said.
Diplomats said there was broad support on the 15-nation council for a draft resolution of sanctions to punish long-time Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and others in the North African country's ruling elite for attacks that have killed thousands of civilians.
But council members were divided over whether to refer the issue to the war crimes court. It was unclear whether the call for an immediate ICC referral would be cut to get unanimous agreement on the draft's other punitive steps.
In an attempt to break the deadlock, Libya's U.N. delegation, which has denounced Gaddafi, sent a letter to the president of the Security Council, Brazilian U.N. Ambassador Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, confirming its support for an immediate ICC referral.
Libyan U.N. Ambassador Abdurrahman Shalgam wrote to Viotti that his mission "supports the measures proposed in the draft resolution to hold to account those responsible for the armed attacks against the Libyan civilians, including through the International Criminal Court."
The council has referred only one other case to the ICC -- the conflict in Sudan's western Darfur region. The court has indicted Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for genocide and other crimes against humanity in Darfur.
France and Britain drafted the six-page sanctions resolution, which also calls for travel bans and asset freezes for Gaddafi and his inner circle, in consultation with the United States and Germany.
The European powers hope to vote on it Saturday, though it was unclear if a deal could be clinched that soon.
"CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY"
The draft calls for an end to the violence and says "the widespread and systematic attacks currently taking place in Libya against the civilian population may amount to crimes against humanity."
British U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told reporters before entering the council chamber that he was "encouraged by the broad agreement" among the 15-nation council members on the main points in the draft, though he said there were several outstanding issues, including the ICC referral.
French Ambassador Gerard Araud told reporters before the council meeting that the ICC was the main sticking point and suggested they would have to find a compromise. He predicted there would be some kind of reference to the ICC.
France and Germany have been lobbying hard to immediately bring the Libyan violence to the ICC, based in The Hague.
Permanent veto-wielding council members the United States, Russia and China are not members of the ICC and view the permanent war-crimes tribunal with suspicion. But diplomats said privately that Washington was advocating the ICC referral while Moscow could live with it or without it.
Diplomats said ICC members Portugal and Brazil, as well non-members India and China, were resisting an immediate referral and preferred language that just leaves the door open to bringing Libya to the ICC.
A spokesman for the Portuguese U.N. mission said Lisbon could accept the current draft "as is."
Earlier this week, Libya's deputy U.N. ambassador, Ibrahim Dabbashi, who was one of the first Libyan diplomats to denounce Gaddafi and defect, called on the United Nations to impose a no-fly zone over Libya to protect rebel enclaves from forces loyal to Gaddafi. That proposal is not in the draft.
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