COURTSIDE: Macedonian Trials

Skopje frets over low-ranking war crimes suspects.

COURTSIDE: Macedonian Trials

Skopje frets over low-ranking war crimes suspects.

Saturday, 28 September, 2002

Macedonia’s public prosecutor had discussions with his counterpart in The Hague last week over tribunal investigations into alleged war crimes in the country.

While Skopje wants to prosecute two individuals for alleged crimes committed during the fighting between Albanians and Macedonian security units in 2001, the tribunal opposes the move in case it overlaps with its own investigations.

Macedonia is now insisting that its courts will only stop proceedings if The Hague tribunal orders them to, which is why they insisted that the trial chamber judges hear their arguments last week.

Skopje’s chief prosecutor Stavre Dzikov argued that it was not a question of which court had primacy over the other, pointing out that Macedonia had fully agreed that the tribunal should handle all investigations into crimes committed during the 2001 conflict.

But he drew attention to the tribunal’s chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte’s assertion that The Hague would only indict high-ranking individuals. The Macedonian authorities fear lower-level criminals may go unpunished, which is why Dzikov wants Skopje to be allowed to conduct its own investigations.

The dispute started after the tribunal ordered Skopje to release two suspects in the Mavrovo road workers case, in which the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army allegedly detained and abused five Macedonian labourers in August 2001.

Skopje had collected evidence in a bid to convict the two men but the tribunal deemed the material to be insufficient. In the meantime, the Macedonian authorities re-arrested the suspects with a view to bringing them to trial at a later date.

Dzikov spoke of his concerns that the suspects may not be prosecuted owing to their low rank, even if the tribunal uncovered new evidence against them.

However, Del Ponte insisted that all new evidence would be forwarded to the Macedonian authorities. As a result, "lesser" criminals would not escape justice, as the local prosecutors would have their chance to try them once the tribunal has finished its own investigations.

She argued that a parallel inquiry would only hamper the tribunal’s own efforts. The trial chamber is to decide on the matter in due course.

Mirna Jancic is an IWPR assistant editor.

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