Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Kostunica Spurns Del Ponte
Hague chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte left Belgrade last week with an
important question unanswered: is Serbia ready to start cooperating with the
The impression given last week was that it isn't prepared to do so.
Del Ponte was clearly frustrated by President Kostunica's refusal to
extradite Slobodan Milosevic or any other war crimes suspects in the near
future. "I was somewhat disappointed, " the prosecutor said, rather
But there are some encouraging signs.
By agreeing to hold talks with Del Ponte, Belgrade leaders have de facto
recognised the tribunal - something they've previously refused to do. And
while Kostunica and Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic are opposed to
doing much else, some of their colleagues have signaled their readiness to
be more cooperative.
Just as importantly, the chief prosecutor's presence in Belgrade has forced
ordinary people to face up to Milosevic's bloody legacy - the former
authorities had long insisted that Serbs bore no responsibility for war
But these breakthroughs clearly fell short of Del Ponte's demands.
In an interview with IWPR, she admits that the she had not been hopeful of
delivering the former president to The Hague.
Del Ponte said she had expected Milosevic to be detained soon after the
October 5 revolution. She had watched the drama unfold on TV while on a
visit to Macedonia.
"I was certain that the transitional administration would arrest
Milosevic," she said. " Everything seemed to be leading to it."
When it didn't, she put her faith in the new
government. But since it was elected in December, no progress has been
Kostunica's recent meeting with Milosevic to discuss "political
developments" was the last straw for her. Del Ponte felt any hope of the
authorities dealing resolutely and decisively disappeared overnight. "This
is why I felt it was important to come to Belgrade now," she said.
Del Ponte clearly got nowhere with Kostunica. "I simply had to listen for
half an hour to what I already knew," she said of her meeting with the
Yugoslav president. "I wanted a dialogue...but he wanted to make a political
She was, however, encouraged by her talks with other senior reformist
leaders who, she said, expressed more of a willingness to work with her."
Other meetings were completely positive," said the prosecutor.
Although they appear just as unwilling as Kostunica to send Milosevic to The
Hague, some of the senior officials she met have hinted that they might
agree to him being put on trial for war crimes in Belgrade.
Del Ponte says this is "out of the question", but the very fact that they
are prepared to consider prosecuting Milosevic for war crimes represents
This willingness to make some compromises stems from a fear that the
international community may impose sanctions or deny financial aid unless
there's more cooperation.
Ordinary Serbs too are beginning realise that there's a lot at stake - they
are now acknowledging that the tribunal is a serious institution with real
power, not the joke the former regime had portrayed it as.
And in an effort to try to win over the public, Del Ponte did her best to
dispel the still widely held view that the tribunal is anti-Serb. "I want
the people of Serbia to rest assured that we are also investigating crimes
committed against the Serbs in Kosovo, Croatia and Bosnia," she said.
Del Ponte also sought to rally support for the prosecution of Milosevic. She claimed that he knew Serbian state television would be bombed during NATO air raids but did nothing to protect its staff. Sixteen people working in the building were killed when the building was hit.
The new Serbia must get rid of its war crimes suspects - whether Kostunica
and Djindjic understand this is another question.
They have to realise that unless they cooperate with the tribunal, Serbia risks international isolation all over again.
Petar Lukovic is a leading Belgrade commentator
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