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Del Ponte Reveals Serbian Obstinacy

Tribunal prosecutor says Serbian prime minister threatened to end cooperation if "certain indictments" issued.
By Chris Stephen

Serbia's prime minister Zoran Zivkovic has threatened to cut cooperation with the Hague Tribunal if it issues a group of new indictments, according to the court's Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte.

She made the claim on October 13, in a hard-hitting speech to European Union foreign ministers in Luxembourg.

"In an unprecedented move, the prime minister threatened to stop all co-operation if certain new indictments were to be released," she said, in a speech released to the press by her office later this week.

Such a move would represent a serious challenge to the tribunal as it continues its long campaign to secure arrests of suspects and access to government documents.

Del Ponte has given no details of what upcoming indictments Zivkovic objects to.

The speech came at a time of tension between the prosecutor and the governments of Serbia and Croatia over their lack of cooperation. She visited both countries earlier this month - and had a meeting with Zivkovic - to press for indictees to be handed over.

In her speech, Del Ponte highlighted their failure to surrender two key figures - former Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic and Croatian general Ante Gotovina - but said this was only the tip of the iceberg.

She said 17 indictees remain free, in some cases years after they have been indicted, and despite repeated calls by the Hague for them to be surrendered.

"Croat authorities usually start to become extremely cooperative a few weeks or days preceding an important deadline, for instance my visit to Zagreb or a report to the UN Security Council," she said.

"With Serbia and Montenegro, we face systematic obstruction on the release of crucial evidence and documents, and an incredible incapacity to arrest and transfer fugitives. Out of the 17 fugitives I mentioned before, I have serious indications that 11 of them either reside or have spent time in Serbia and Montenegro this year."

The chief prosecutor went on to talk about how prosecutors still lack full access to government archives, "I also face great difficulties to access key documents. In particular, during my last visit, the minister of foreign affairs refused to consider giving access to any archive dating from before 1996. As a consequence, the military archive concerning the periods of the wars in Croatia and in Bosnia and Herzegovina would remain out of our reach, seriously obstructing the work of the prosecution, especially in the Milosevic trial."

Del Ponte's speech followed her annual address to the UN Security Council last week in which she highlighted the difficulty of sticking to plans to close the court by 2010, since Zagreb and Belgrade refuse to hand over information and suspects.

The chief prosecutor confirmed that she will issue no more indictments after 2004. She said that a total of "approximately 30" suspects will be indicted, with 13 new indictments arranged into nine trials.

Chris Stephen is IWPR's tribunal project manager.

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