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Croatia 'Right' to Complain of Unequal Treatment

Chief Prosecutor backs Zagreb's criticism of Western leniency towards Belgrade over war crimes

Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte criticised the international community's apparent reluctance to pressure the new Yugoslav government into cooperating with the war crimes tribunal.

Del Ponte, speaking at a seminar for ambassadors in The Hague last week, said "Serbia can not be let off the hook. The damage to the credibility of the international criminal justice process will be enormous."

While pointing out her dissatisfaction with the level of Zagreb's cooperation with the Tribunal, especially with respect to crimes committed during Operation Storm in 1995, del Ponte said, "Croatia is quite right to point to unequal treatment."

Diplomats from 50 countries accredited at The Hague attended the "Diplomatic Information Seminar", the first of its kind. The Yugoslav charge d'affaires, appointed by former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, did not attend. He left a message explaining he had "other obligations" or "priorities", reflecting his new president's attitude towards the Tribunal.

In her address to the diplomats, del Ponte reiterated the main points of a report she delivered to the United Nations Security Council the previous week. (See Tribunal Update No. 200). She outlined the results of exhumations carried out in Kosovo and called once again for Article 5 of the Tribunal Statutes to be amended to allow for investigations into crimes committed in the province after the arrival of international forces.

Del Ponte also called for the financial assets of accused persons to be frozen and possibly made available to the victims of crimes. The prosecutor also repeated her concerns over the fall in the number of arrests.

Del Ponte ended her speech with a reference to what she describes as the "Milosevic case".

"One big question, obviously, is what will happen with Milosevic, now that he is no longer in power, " she said. " [Yugoslav] President [Vojislav] Kostunica takes the line that cooperation with the ICTY [International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia] is not a priority for him We will have to see what that means.

"But sooner or later Milosevic must be brought to trial before the international tribunal. That is my public position and it is my private position. We must insist Milosevic is brought to justice.... The international community has to speak clearly and consistently about arrests issue.

"I am planning to visit Belgrade as soon as possible and I want to raise the Milosevic issue face-to-face with the new president. But, if I am to be successful, I will need the support of all your governments."

Del Ponte said she regretted the Tribunal was not able to prosecute all offenders, but for practical reasons investigators had to be selective. It was therefore right that those in the highest political and military positions should be brought to trial, for they carried the greatest responsibility, she said.

The seminar was initiated by Tribunal President Claude Jorda to inform diplomats on activities and challenges faced by the courts, and to stress the importance of member states' cooperation to the tribunal's success.

Jorda said it was needed "now more than ever." The dramatic political changes in Croatia and Serbia, he went on, placed the international court at crucial crossroads.

"Without cooperation from the countries you represent, the Tribunal will not be able to accomplish its mission in the shortest possible time, and that would impact on its credibility and dash the hopes created by its establishment," Jorda said.

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