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Yugoslavia: Del Ponte Calls On Belgrade To Arrest More War Crimes Suspects

  • Ron Synovitz

The chief UN war crimes prosecutor is calling on Belgrade to arrest and transfer more indicted war crime suspects to The Hague. Carla Del Ponte made the request during talks in Belgrade yesterday with Serbian and Yugoslav government officials.

Prague. 5 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The chief prosecutor of the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague says she has asked Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic to help locate, arrest, and transfer former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic to the UN court.

Carla Del Ponte said after talks with Djindjic yesterday that the tribunal has received information that Mladic is in Serbia. She said The Hague tribunal needs Belgrade's help to capture Mladic, as well as Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic and other indicted war crimes suspects.

Both Mladic and Karadzic were indicted by the UN tribunal six years ago for their role in the 1992-95 siege of Sarajevo and the 1995 massacre of up to 8,000 Muslims near the Bosnian town of Srebrenica. They are among the most prominent indicted war crimes suspects sought by the international court.

Djindjic told RFE/RL that Serb authorities do not know where Mladic is hiding and that there is no legal basis for the Serbian government to become involved in tracking him down:

"First, we know nothing about Ratko Mladic's whereabouts. Second, he is not a citizen of Serbia or the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. And third, he has been the focus of interest for a long time by many international organizations, both in Bosnia-Herzegovina and elsewhere and the Serbian government has no legal basis for an initiative in this respect."

In his talks with Del Ponte, Djindjic said they did not speak specifically about Karadjic nor about Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, who also has been indicted by the UN court. He said Mladic was mentioned in the talks. But he says it was agreed that the Serbian government has no jurisdiction over his case.

But Jean Jacques Joris, an advisor to Del Ponte who traveled with her to Belgrade, told RFE/RL today that the Serbian government does have the authority to arrest Mladic and Karadzic if they are caught within Serbian territory.

Joris said non-Yugoslav citizens can be arrested and transferred by authorities in Belgrade because they are not protected by a clause in the Yugoslav Constitution that prevents citizens from being extradited to a foreign court. Prosecutors in The Hague contend the UN tribunal is an international court and that a transfer there -- like the one in June involving former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic-- are not the same as an extradition.

Regardless of Belgrade's interpretation of the constitution, Joris said the issue does not apply to Mladic or Karadzic:

"There is a number of people who are in Serbia right now, or who are thought to be in Serbia, some of whose whereabouts are well known, and we should start with those who can easily be arrested and transferred. As for Karadzic and Mladic, it appears [they are in Yugoslavia now], and if it is confirmed that they are both in the territory of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, then action should be taken."

Joris said the main reason for Del Ponte's visit to Belgrade was to meet with new Yugoslav Justice Minister Savo Markovic and urge him to cooperate more with tribunal investigations.

"The prosecutor came to Belgrade to establish contact with the new relevant federal authority for her, who is the federal minister of justice, since he was named in July. And we had to establish that contact. We had a follow-up assessment meeting with the authorities at the level of the republic [of Serbia], with whom we are in contact. Resumption of the arrests and transfer implies that indictees be transferred to the Hague. But no specific names were mentioned and no specific date was ascribed to any name."

In a statement after his meeting with Del Ponte, Markovic said that it is important for investigations to begin against former ethnic Albanian guerrillas suspected of committing crimes against Serbs and other non-Albanians in Kosovo.

Joris told RFE/RL that several investigations into former ethnic Albanian guerrilla leaders have already been launched. But so far, no indictments have been issued publicly. Joris refused to comment on whether ethnic Albanians are among any of the tribunal's sealed indictments.

Altogether, there are 38 war crimes suspects from the former Yugoslavia who have been indicted by the international court and who are still at large. Eleven of those indictments remain sealed:

"There are widespread rumors or fears in Yugoslavia, particularly in the military, that hundreds of people could be indicted by the tribunal. This is false. This is simply false. We have a list of 11 names -- 11 individuals who have been indicted and whose names are not in the public domain for the time being, but are known to the relevant authorities. All those 11 are not in Serbia and Yugoslavia. Some of them are in other parts of the former Yugoslavia."

Djindjic told RFE/RL that the main topic of his talks with Del Ponte was the issue of giving tribunal investigators access to Serbian government documents. Joris confirmed that the issue is critical for investigators to move forward with their probes:

"It's not only about the transfer of documents to The Hague. It is access to archives. To all sorts of different archives. Federal archives, republic archives, military archives. And we have made clear that this is an essential element for the progress of our investigations -- not only against Serb perpetrators, but also in the case of other investigations against non-Serbs. We have received a commitment to improve cooperation wherever possible."

Joris said the tribunal may approve trials in Yugoslav courts for some of the indicted war crimes suspects:

"The Yugoslav authorities have been insisting that their own judicial system could get active in the prosecution of war criminals. The prosecutor made very clear that we encourage the Yugoslav judicial system to get involved and pro-active in the prosecution of war criminals here [in Yugoslavia]."

The outgoing commander of NATO-led peacekeepers in Bosnia said yesterday that he thinks he knows where both Mladic and Karadzic are hiding, but refused to say where. U.S. General Michael Dodson told a news conference in Sarajevo that neither of the high-profile suspects resides in Bosnia. But he said both are thought to enter and exit Bosnia quickly -- a remark that implies the two are living in neighboring Yugoslavia.

"I have no doubt that these men will be brought to justice. It's getting more and more difficult for them to move, and life is getting more and more Spartan for them."

Del Ponte is in Sarajevo today for talks with Bosnia's interethnic presidency. In remarks today, Del Ponte urged both of Bosnia's entities to cooperate with the UN tribunal. She also repeated that local courts should handle some of the cases in which The Hague tribunal has issued indictments.

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