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UN: Prosecutor Forms Team To Hunt War Crimes Suspects

The UN's chief war crimes prosecutor for the former Yugoslavia says she is setting up a team of investigators to track down indicted war crimes suspects still at large.

Prague, 6 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor at The Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, says she expects to set up a small team of investigators by year's end that will have the sole task of hunting down indicted war crimes suspects who are in hiding.

Del Ponte's spokeswoman, Florence Hartmann, told RFE/RL today that the tracking team will be established and will start work as soon as the tribunal's next two-year budget is approved by the UN General Assembly in New York:

"Well, it's a small team, but we are quite ready. The last element we need is for the project to be included in the regular budget of the tribunal, and it's now in front of the General Assembly of the UN, and they are supposed to discuss the budget. I believe the last step [of the budget confirmation] is [due to take place] in November."

Hartmann said she cannot provide further details about the composition of the tribunal's tracking team without hampering its ability to locate suspects.

Altogether, 38 suspects who have been indicted by the tribunal remain at large. Twenty-seven of those suspects have been named publicly -- with the most-wanted being Bosnian Serb wartime political leader Radovan Karadzic and Bosnian Serb military commander General Ratko Mladic. The indictments against the other 11 suspects remain secret.

Hartmann told RFE/RL that a tracking team is needed because of the refusal of officials in the Bosnian Serb entity to cooperate with the tribunal. More than half of the indicted fugitives from the former Yugoslavia are suspected of hiding in Republika Srpska. Del Ponte has also criticized Bosnian Croat authorities of failing to cooperate with the UN tribunal.

But Hartmann emphasized that the tracking team will not have the power to arrest suspects. Rather, it will locate suspects and then ask local authorities or international peacekeepers to arrest them.

"In Bosnia, the biggest problem we have is locating [indicted suspects] because when we have authorities like SFOR saying in private and publicly that they are willing to arrest them if they find them, well, we will find them for [SFOR] if they are not in a position for the last six or seven years to locate them."

Hartmann refused to comment on whether investigators intend to actually work within the Bosnian Serb entity. But she insists the team will not violate the sovereignty of any independent state and that its efforts will be conducted under international law.

Hartmann said there is already a precedent for such a tracking team:

"We have one inside of the office of the prosecutor for the tribunal for Rwanda, and we need one because [fugitive indicted suspects from Rwanda] are all around the world. We've had in the last two years, thanks to this tracking team, around eight arrests in Europe."

Hartmann said she expects that problems experienced by the Rwanda team will be similar to future difficulties in the Balkans.

"Our fugitives [indicted by the Rwanda tribunal] are all around Africa. They are sometimes located, but we cannot expect to get the arrests from the local authorities. The fact is that this tracking team that is locating [suspects from Rwanda] does not have the mandate to arrest. The tribunal doesn't have its own police. They locate and, in cooperation with local authorities or with international forces -- if you have this option like the case in Bosnia and we can say also in Kosovo -- they will ask those authorities to arrest them. They are not arresting people. They are locating people."

During Del Ponte's visit to Sarajevo yesterday, she urged Bosnian officials to appoint Serb, Croat, and Muslim liaison officers to cooperate with the court. She said she also discussed a future role for local Bosnian courts in the UN tribunal's investigations.

Wolfgang Petritsch, the international community's high representative in Bosnia, also said yesterday that full cooperation with the tribunal by Bosnian Serb authorities is lacking. Petritsch said Del Ponte told him yesterday that authorities in Belgrade say they are ready to take part in a regional effort to apprehend Karadzic and Mladic.

Hartmann told RFE/RL today that tribunal prosecutors have received information that Karadzic and Mladic have been hiding in both Serbia and Montenegro. She said both men have made short visits to the Republika Srpska in recent years.

But she refused to comment on whether the prosecutor's office has any information about whether Karadzic or Mladic have permanent residences within Yugoslavia. Until recent months, there have been sporadic reports that Mladic has been seen in Belgrade. Karadzic has also reportedly been seen visiting his sick mother, said to be in Montenegro.