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UN: Surrender Of War Crimes Suspects To Hague Sets New Tone Of Cooperation

Carla del Ponte is the chief prosecutor at The Hague war crimes tribunal. (file photo) The international community's high representative in Bosnia is among those who see a change in Balkan governments' cooperation with the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal. Paddy Ashdown says the Serbian entity in Bosnia, Republika Srpska, is demonstrating a new understanding through its handover of indictees to The Hague tribunal. Serbian authorities in Belgrade have also transferred suspects to the UN court. But the most-wanted war crimes suspects remain at large. And until they are brought to justice, the court's work is not complete.

Prague, 24 March 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague has seen a surge in the number of suspects arriving for trial on charges relating to conflicts in the former Yugoslavia.

About a dozen suspects have surrendered to the tribunal, or been sent there by their governments, in the last few months. They include former Bosnian Army security chief Drago Nikolic. He is charged with genocide in connection with the Srebrenica massacre of Muslims in 1995.

Others include former Macedonian Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski, who faces charges over the killing of ethnic Albanians during the insurgency in Macedonia four years ago.

Two men who led forces fighting Serbs have also surrendered -- the former overall commander of Bosnian Muslim forces, Rasim Delic, and former Kosovar Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj.
"I do now believe that we may be seeing a change in the attitude of the Republika Srpska authorities and an acceptance that the way to Brussels, to the European Union, and to NATO, and to the country's future has to lie through The Hague tribunal." -- Paddy Ashdown, High Representative to Bosnia

Balkans analyst Dick Leurdyk of the Netherlands Institute of International Relations describes the sudden movement as "amazing."

"I find that fascinating, in the light of the fact that the tribunal has had so many difficulties in ensuring cooperation of the governments concerned," Leurdyk says.

Leurdyk has a two-fold explanation for the change. On one hand, the countries involved are taking a pragmatic line because they realize that future membership in the European Union and NATO depends on such cooperation.

On the other, the war crimes tribunal is taking a more active line in demanding the handover of indictees as its allotted lifespan begins to run short.

But Leurdyk says he's not even sure this double explanation is adequate to describe the change in the climate of cooperation. There is another possible factor at work, at least in the case of Serbs. It is the financial help that the Serbian government is reportedly now offering to support the families of suspects surrendering to the tribunal.

The international community's high representative in Bosnia, Paddy Ashdown, also notes the changes at work. He says Bosnia's Serbian entity might be at a turning point in its cooperation with The Hague.

Ashdown says Republika Srpska's transfer of five indictees to the tribunal reflects a new understanding.

"I do now believe that we may be seeing a change in the attitude of the Republika Srpska authorities and an acceptance that the way to Brussels, to the European Union, and to NATO, and to the country's future has to lie through The Hague tribunal," Ashdown said.

But the "big fish" remain missing. Bosnian Serb wartime political leader Radovan Karadzic and military commander Ratko Mladic are still free, and believed to be hiding in Republika Srpska or Serbia.

Leurdyk says the capture of the two main fugitives is essential.

"We have to make sure that those two people will come to The Hague, because as long as that is not the case, this project [of ensuring justice] is not finished," he says.

Another prominent suspect on the run is former Croatian General Ante Gotovina. He is charged with war crimes allegedly committed by Croatian troops retaking territory from ethnic Serbs.

In a heavy blow to Croatia's prestige, the European Union last week decided to delay the start of membership talks. Brussels says Zagreb has failed to sufficiently assist the tribunal in locating Gotovina and that talks will not begin until it shows "full cooperation" with The Hague.

Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn says negotiations can start as soon as Croatia demonstrates sufficient cooperation.

"After deliberations in the [EU] Council and in the absence of a consensus, the opening of accession talks was postponed," Asselborn said. "An intergovernmental bilateral governmental conference [between Croatia and the EU] will be convened when there is agreement that the government of Croatia cooperates fully with [The Hague]."

The Hague tribunal announced on March 15 that it has issued its last indictments against war crimes suspects of the Balkan wars. The final indictments are against former Macedonian Interior Minister Boskovski and his former associate, police official Johan Tarculovski.

Although the last indictments have been issued, court officials say they are determined to see that all those indicted but n-o-t yet located are brought to justice.

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