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UN official criticised after meeting Russian sought by ICC

FILE PHOTO: Russia's Commissioner for children's rights Maria Lvova-Belova addresses an informal meeting of U.N. Security Council members via video, in New York

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Rights groups and the top U.S. justice envoy on Saturday criticised a meeting between a leading United Nations official for children and Russia's ombudsman for children's rights, who is wanted by the world's permanent war crimes court.

An arrest warrant was issued in March by the International Criminal Court for Maria Lvova-Belova, who is accused by the ICC's prosecutor of the war crime of deporting hundreds of Ukrainian children to Russia.

Lvova-Belova said on her website on Friday that she held a working meeting with Virginia Gamba, the special representative of the UN secretary-general for children and armed conflict and that they discussed the protection of children in conflict.

"The conversation turned out to be constructive and sincere - without politics," Lvova-Belova said. "After all, we are united by a sense of personal responsibility for the life and safety of children."

Rights groups and the top U.S. official for global justice denounced the meeting.

"Ukrainian victims deserve to see Lvova-Belova behind bars in The Hague, not meeting with high-level UN officials," said Balkees Jarrah, associate director in the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch.

As a senior official, Gamba should avoid contact with persons subject to ICC warrants and that "Lvova-Belova belongs only in one place – in the dock at the ICC," Jarrah said.

U.S. Ambassador for Global Justice Beth van Schaack, said on social media Friday night that such a meeting would be "deeply concerning."

Deputy UN spokesperson Farhan Haq had said on Thursday that Gamba intended to visit Moscow to discuss the implementation of "Security Council and General Assembly resolutions."

Lvova-Belova spoke by video last month to an informal meeting of U.N. Security Council members on Ukraine, convened by Russia at U.N. headquarters in New York. The United States, Britain, Albania and Malta walked out on her address. Britain and the United States had also blocked the meeting from being webcast.

(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch, Michelle Nichols and Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Giles Elgood)