High Representative Paddy Ashdown said in a Security Council briefing that the failure of Bosnian Serb leaders to pursue indicted war criminals is an "affront" to the Euro-Atlantic institutions Bosnia seeks to join.
"They need be in no doubt that when NATO and the European Union say that if they want [Bosnia-Herzegovina] to join those institutions they must cooperate with [the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY)], those are not empty words," Ashdown said. "They are deadly serious ones. They should be in no doubt that they cannot treat this solemn obligation, which they signed up to in Dayton, as if it was written in invisible ink, when it's there in black and white."
About 20 fugitives are still sought by the tribunal for alleged war crimes, including Bosnian Serb wartime President Radovan Karadzic and his military chief Ratko Mladic. Many of them are presumed to be hiding in Bosnian Serb territory.
Many Security Council members echoed Ashdown's concerns.
Germany's UN ambassador, Gunter Pleuger, took note of the Bosnian Serb government's apology this week for the 1995 massacre of Muslims in Srebrenica. But he stressed the importance of cooperation with the war crimes tribunal.
"We welcome yesterday's declaration on Srebrenica," Pleuger said. "But to reach a sustainable peace, we feel that all persons indicted have to face their judge."
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Danforth, praised Ashdown's moves to penalize individuals and organizations supporting indicted war criminals.
"Republika Srpska remains in violation of the Dayton-Paris peace accords and various resolutions passed by this body," Danforth said. "In the Dayton-Paris peace accords, the parties made a solemn commitment to turn over indictees to the ICTY. This commitment must be fulfilled if the achievements of Dayton are to be secured."
Bosnian Foreign Minister Mladen Ivanic told the Security Council that apprehension of war crimes indictees remains a delicate matter for authorities, but vowed to improve cooperation.
"There is a firm political commitment to arrest the indicted war criminals, as well as awareness of the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina that full cooperation with the ICTY is a precondition for the country to be recognized as a democratic state," Ivanic said.
Ivanic said the state has recently improved its capacity for tracking down such suspects. New measures include the establishment of a state intelligence service, as well as a state investigation and protection agency with a special department dealing with war crimes issues.
The new services were among a series of institutional improvements cited by Ashdown. The high representative stressed that despite his concerns about war criminals, the country has made significant progress.
Provided it improves cooperation with the ICTY, he said, it is within sight of beginning talks with the EU on a stabilization and association agreement and of gaining admission to NATO's Partnership for Peace program.
In response to complaints by Russia's envoy about singling out Republika Srpska for blame, Ashdown sought to recognize the sacrifices made by Bosnian Serbs in areas like defense reform.
"I actually believe that arguably the Serb people and Republika Srpska have made a greater and more difficult contribution to the whole reform process than any other peoples in Bosnia-Herzegovina," Ashdown said.
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer also addressed the Security Council. He confirmed that the alliance will be turning over its main security responsibilities in Bosnia to a European force early next month.
De Hoop Scheffer said NATO's success in Bosnia has made the mission a template for many other operations.
"Bosnia and Herzegovina is the most successful proof of the effectiveness and potential of the United Nations and NATO working together for peace and stability," de Hoop Scheffer said. "We have developed an effective operational relationship between our two organizations there, and we have adapted the model of our cooperation to other operations."
NATO will maintain a presence in a new headquarters in Sarajevo starting next month. It will oversee Bosnian defense reform, oversee counterterrorism efforts, and help in the hunt for indicted war criminals.