Del Ponte Fury Over Balkan Defiance

A frustrated tribunal chief is urging the EU to apply pressure on governments throughout the Balkan region.

Del Ponte Fury Over Balkan Defiance

A frustrated tribunal chief is urging the EU to apply pressure on governments throughout the Balkan region.

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

Angered by the lack of cooperation she is receiving from almost all former Yugoslav republics, The Hague tribunal's chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte is demanding that Brussels exerts more pressure on Balkan governments.


Del Ponte aired her fury on November 6 to the EU high representative on foreign and security policy, Javier Solana, whom she hopes will use his trump card against Yugoslavia, Croatia and the two Bosnian entities - their common hopes of joining the European Union.


At a UN Security Council session on October 30, Del Ponte and tribunal president Claude Jorda said they were facing serious obstacles to their work due to the refusal of the Croat and Yugoslav authorities to arrest leading indictees.


The deterioration in relations between the court and the Balkan governments seriously jeopardises the tribunal's goal of completing the prosecution of all inidicted war criminals by 2008, the time limit laid down by the Security Council.


Del Ponte earlier toured Balkan capitals to urge governments to fully cooperate, apparently without success.


Croatia's left-of-centre government is dragging its feet in handing over General Janko Bobetko, the retired army chief of staff indicted for war crimes against Croatian Serbs in 1993 in the Medak area, south of Zagreb.


Croatia has filed an appeal to the tribunal contesting the indictment. Zagreb has also failed to arrest another wanted general, Ante Gotovina, indicted for atrocities against Serbs in the aftermath of Croatia's successful 1995 offensive, codenamed Operation Storm (Oluja), against ethnic Serb rebels in the Krajina region.


Del Ponte said Yugoslavia had broken pledges to cooperate by failing to arrest 11 indicted Serbs, including the former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic, the president of Serbia, Milan Milutinovic and the "Vukovar trio" - three Yugoslav army officers held responsible for crimes against Croats in the eastern Croatian town in 1991.


"I have informed Solana about Mladic's whereabouts and I expect Croatia to hand over Bobetko and Gotovina," Del Ponte announced after her meeting with Solana.


Apart from arrests, the tribunal is dissatisfied with Belgrade over the question of access to archives and documentation, which is hindering the prosecution from preparing cases and drafting indictments.


In Kosovo, the tribunal encounters no such problems with local authorities, as the protectorate is ruled by the United Nations Mission in Kosovo force, which forms part of the UN, like the tribunal itself.


The problem there concerns witnesses. Ethnic Albanians are proving reluctant to testify against fellow Albanians and ethnic Serbs are also refusing to give evidence, as they do not recognise the tribunal at all.


Cooperation is judged almost non-existent within Republika Srpska, the autonomous Serb entity in Bosnia-Hercegovina, where the former Bosnian Serb leader and top war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic is believed to be hiding. But cooperation with the Federation has also begun to falter over possible indictments of Bosniak suspects.


Del Ponte clearly hopes Solana will use the lever of EU membership to change matters. EU policy towards the Balkans centres on admittedly distant and vague promises of eventual membership if regional states stand on their own feet in terms of security, political stability and economic development and adopt European standards.


As an interim measure, the EU has promoted Stabilisation and Association Treaties with aspiring states, comprising trade privileges and incentives as rewards for reforms. Admission to these treaties are contingent on several preconditions, including full cooperation with the tribunal, encompassing unlimited access to archives, documentation and witnesses as well as arrests and extradition of indictees.


"We cannot ease the pressure regarding the obligations of the Balkan countries towards the tribunal even if we wanted to," a European Commission official said.


"These are obligations towards the UN which the countries in question have taken upon themselves. Cooperation with The Hague must be unequivocal to satisfy the criteria for progress in the process of EU integration."


Brussels can exert pressure in each of these phases of integration, mostly through Solana. He reports to the EU ministerial council, which judges countries' future membership potential largely on the basis of his assessments.


In October, the ministerial council sharply warned Balkan governments that further integration into Europe depended on the unconditional fulfilment of tribunal requests.


Officials have told Serbia and Montenegro that in spite of signing an agreement on retaining a common state, which Europe had demanded, their ambitions of EU membership will still be thwarted if they do not cooperate with The Hague.


Croatia, which has already signed the Treaty on Stabilisation and Association, enjoys relatively large tourist revenues and does not depend on European financial assistance.


However, the agreement has not been ratified by all the parliaments of EU member states and Zagreb now finds itself stranded in the next stage towards the European integration. After failing to join the list of candidates for full membership, sources in Athens say Croatia intended to apply next year, during the Greek presidency. These ambitions have been dealt a serious blow by the Bobetko case.


Solana's dilemma is to persuade moderate governments in the region to comply with the tribunal without destabilising them and handing over power in the region to hard line nationalists. This may mean Solana will have to rely on political pressures rather than the ultimate weapon of economic sanctions.


Ines Sabalic is a journalist with the Sense News Agency in Brussels


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