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NATO: Time Running Out For Suspects

NATO Secretary-General George Robertson warned in remarks in Washington Tuesday that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and other Balkans war crimes suspects risk facing the "rough justice" of their foes if they do not surrender to an international tribunal. RFE/RL correspondent K.P. Foley reports.

Washington, 5 April 2000 (RFE/RL) -- NATO's top civilian is warning Bosnian fugitives that their day of reckoning before the International War Crimes Tribunal is close at hand.

George Robertson, the secretary-general of the 19-nation military alliance told a Washington audience at the National Press Club Tuesday that the search for war crimes suspects is difficult, but he says NATO will not give up.

"It does take time because a lot of these people are in hiding, a lot of them are in exile, a lot of them are running away from their past, but they can't escape forever," he said.

Robertson was commenting on the arrest on Monday of Bosnian Serb Momcilo Krajisnik by French peace implementation troops in Bosnia. Krajisnik was accused, among other crimes, of killing civilians during the civil war in the former Yugoslav republic almost a decade ago. Krajisnik was one of Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic's top aides.

The NATO official said Karadzic and Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic must know by now that justice is closing in on them. He said:

"They've got to realize that the net is closing."

Robertson said Krajisnik's arrest was the result of meticulous planning by the French NATO contingent. Robertson said Krajisnik has much to answer for.

"He is a very substantial figure with a lot of responsibilities for what went on in the Bosnian War of the 1990s and he will face a fair trial in The Hague at the International Criminal Tribunal."

In his press club remarks and in comments at the U.S. State Department earlier Tuesday, Robertson said all of the suspected war criminals -- including Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic -- would fare better if they surrendered to international authorities.

"All of those who have been indicted and those with some pretty bad consciences should not be sleeping easily in their beds at night now. The message is out: whoever you are; however powerful you are, the net is closing and it might be better if you chose to accept the decent, open justice at The Hague rather than waiting for the rough justice of the Balkans."

Robertson said the arrest of Krajisnik should also persuade Bosnians to vote for ethnic tolerance in municipal elections Saturday. He said it was a signal that they can vote for the future and turn their back on the past and the failed policies of ethnic hatred.