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U.S.: State Department Considering Whether To Let Diplomats Testify At The Hague

Washington, 13 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. State Department says it has not yet decided whether to permit a top former American diplomat to testify in the war crimes trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said today that the U.S. has been cooperating with The Hague court and wants to work closely with the prosecution. At the same time, Reeker said other issues must be considered as well. "We have to weigh the need to protect compelling United States interests, including the need to protect [the] effectiveness and security of our diplomats, and the security of sensitive information. Those are the types of things we would discuss with the prosecutor, and will continue with those ongoing discussions," Reeker said.

At issue is whether the U.S. will be willing to permit former Ambassador Richard Holbrooke to testify at the trial. Holbrooke was a top American diplomat for the Balkans under the administration of President Bill Clinton, the predecessor of the current president, George W. Bush.

At The Hague, prosecutors declined to comment on a published report that the State Department was attempting to prevent Holbrooke from appearing in open testimony at the Milosevic trial.

The report quoted unidentified officials at the United Nations in New York as saying chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, was considering not calling Holbrooke as a prosecution witness if he must testify in private.

"Former officials would be testifying in their capacity as officials at the time of their action in that case, and so the [State] Department will work closely [and] the U.S. government will work closely with the prosecutor's office to discuss those issues, but in terms of definitive legal positions, I don't have anything else for you at this point," Reeker said.

UN officials said transparency was a key issue, and that Del Ponte wanted to avoid the appearance of a show trial. Milosevic has indicated he will call Holbrooke later to discuss the Yugoslav leader's role in negotiating the 1995 Dayton peace agreement that ended the Bosnian war. Milosevic is on trial for his role in the Balkan wars during the 1990s.