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Belgrade Co-Operation Urged

Deputy Prosecutor Graham Blewitt says he expects Belgrade to cooperate fully with the tribunal

Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte has shed more light on her expectations of the new Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, in an exclusive interview for Tribunal Update and SENSE (South East News Service Europe) TV, which broadcasts on the work of the international court.

Del Ponte revealed that she sent a letter to Kostunica congratulating him on his election and requesting a meeting as soon as possible to discuss problems relating to "the overall co-operation of Belgrade with the Tribunal and other issues concerning the work of the prosecution."

Del Ponte said she was convinced Belgrade would respond positively because "Mr Kostunica is a jurist, even a constitutional jurist" and therefore needs no explanation of the country's international obligations. She stressed that, "when the time for that comes, [her office will] establish with the authorities in Belgrade full cooperation in investigations and other activities of the Hague prosecution."

This weekend, during the European Union summit in Biarritz, Kostunica acknowledged that co-operation with the tribunal was an international legal obligation, which Milosevic himself had accepted when he signed the Dayton accords.

The president insisted, however, that this was "not a priority" at the moment as his new administration had first to tackle Yugoslavia's myriad social and economic problems.

Deputy Prosecutor Graham Blewitt told Tribunal Update last week that the prosecutor's office was "prepared to wait a little". He said the political changes in Yugoslavia presented "great opportunities" for tribunal prosecutors who, he believed, would reopen an office in Belgrade soon.

A previous office had been closed down during the Kosovo crisis following the refusal of the Milosevic government to allow a tribunal investigation into alleged crimes in the province. An inquiry went ahead, nonetheless, resulting in the indictment of Milosevic and four other senior Yugoslav and Serbian officials - Milan Milutinovic, Nikola Sainovic, Dragoljub Ojdanic and Vlajko Stojiljkovic.

The deputy prosecutor said he expected the new government would allow unobstructed access to victims of crimes and witnesses now living in Serbia.

Milosevic's policy of non co-operation has restricted investigations to date, as only witnesses and victims living in Montenegro and Republika Srpska could be interviewed by tribunal investigators.

Blewitt also said he believed the Kostunica's administration would move to end Serbia's dishonourable status as a "country of refuge for fugitives from international justice".

But he said the tribunal would be patient, "Clearly, we want Milosevic here. We want all the indictees here, in The Hague, because that's where they should be. We have been waiting for a long time, but I think we can wait little bit longer."

Blewitt pointed to the example of Croatia where a new government has moved to reverse the obstructive policy of the former regime of late President Franjo Tudjman. No more or less can be asked of Belgrade, he said.

"If the new authorities in Belgrade truly want lasting peace in the Balkans and genuine democracy in Yugoslavia ... then they actually have no other option but to co-operate with the Tribunal," Blewitt concluded.

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