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Progress in Serbia's Tribunal Cooperation
In an encouraging sign for Serbia’s European Union ambitions, the Hague tribunal chief prosecutor has spoken of an improvement in Belgrade’s efforts to arrest its two remaining war crimes fugitives.
In his latest report to the United Nations Security Council, Serge Brammertz said that he was “satisfied with the current level of cooperation” from the Serbian government.
EU foreign ministers will meet next week to discuss this latest assessment and assess its implications for Serbia joining the EU.
An interim trade agreement between the 27-state bloc and Serbia has remained frozen because of Belgrade’s failure to arrest war crimes suspects former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic and Croatian Serb Goran Hadzic.
Serbia initialed the Stabilisation and Association agreement, SAA - a stage before full accession to the EU - in October 2007 but negotiations were later suspended after The Netherlands and Belgium insisted that Serbia arrest its remaining war crimes suspects before its EU membership application be taken further.
Speaking in front of the UN Security Council this week, Brammertz noted an improvement in Belgrade’s efforts to arrest the fugitives since his last report to the court’s governing body in June.
“Since the last briefing to the Council, Serbia’s cooperation with my office has continued to progress,” Brammertz told the Security Council when he presented his report on December 3.
“My office recognises the professionalism and commitment of operational services tasked with the tracking of fugitives... these services are now working more efficiently and in a coordinated manner.”
In June, Brammertz had reported that he believed the fugitives were “within the reach of Serbian authorities” and urged Belgrade to “foster an atmosphere conducive to improved cooperation with the [tribunal’s] Office of the Prosecutor”.
Mladic is charged with orchestrating the 1995 genocide in Srebrenica when 8,000 Bosniaks were killed by Bosnian Serb forces.
He was jointly charged with the former Bosnian Serb president, Radovan Karadzic, whose trial started in October but is currently suspended until March 2010.
Brammertz also noted this week that Belgrade was currently conducting “a variety of operational activities including search operations” to apprehend both Mladic and Hadzic.
“Serbia must maintain these efforts with the clear objective of apprehending the fugitives,” Brammertz added.
It is unclear what response Brammertz’s comments will bring in Brussels.
Any decision to unfreeze the SAA agreement between Serbia and the EU must be agreed on by all EU member states.
The Netherlands, at the forefront of demands that Serbia arrest its fugitives before any progress is made on EU negotiations, has acknowledged the prosecutor’s remarks on progress.
“The positive assessment by the Chief Prosecutor of the [tribunal] weighs heavily in The Netherlands for further steps in the integration of Serbia into the European Union, but the pressure to continue to cooperate with the [tribunal] must be maintained,” the Dutch foreign ministry said in a statement following Brammertz’s speech in New York.
According to The Netherlands’ foreign minister, Maxime Verhagen, the report and its implications for Serbia’s path to EU integration will be discussed in a meeting between EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels next week.
"Brammertz’s report is positive," Verhagen said. "I will discuss with my European colleagues next week what this means for deciding on the integration process of Serbia."
Meanwhile, the Belgrade government insists it is working hard to capture Mladic and Hadzic and has warned that more pressure from the EU to make it do so will not help.
“We are trying to do everything that is possible [to arrest Mladic and Hadzic] and we are working on that very, very hard,” Serbian president Boris Tadic said in an interview with the BBC World Service this week. “But this is not about [the] European Union, this is about Serbia, this is our decision. And no one has to remind ourselves to do that.”
Ahead of Brammertz’s report this week, Serbia’s foreign minister, Vuk Jeremic, called for Serbia to be allowed to progress with its EU negotiations.
“We believe all prerequisites have been fulfilled for Serbia to move forward on its way to becoming a full member of the EU. We believe the time has come for that to happen,” Jeremic said.
However, there remains concern as to whether Serbia is ready to make the transition to the European bloc.
Vera Markovic, a member of the war victims organisation, Women in Black, and the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, said that while progress towards the EU would benefit the people of Serbia, they remained divided on a European future. EU integration, she said, would not help Serbia face up to its role in the conflict in the former Yugoslavia.
“It would not be good for Serbia to get a green light for EU membership before Ratko Mladic is arrested and before this country accepted responsibility for the political mistakes that were made in the Nineties, and for all human rights violations that took place in the region as a result of those mistakes,” Markovic said.
“When it comes to membership of the EU, there is no consensus here on whether we should join the EU or not. There is also no consensus on what really happened here in the Nineties, and that shows we haven’t learnt anything from our mistakes.”
Markovic emphasised the importance for the region of Mladic and Hadzic ending up in The Hague.
“These arrests would help create a better political climate in the region and would also help prevent war crimes from happening in the future,” she said. “This will be much harder to achieve if a climate of impunity is created instead, and if Serbia is allowed to proceed towards the full EU membership without fulfilling its obligations towards the Hague tribunal first.”
Simon Jennings is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.RFE reporter in Belgrade Zoran Glavonjic contributed to this report.
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