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Yugoslavia: Prosecutor Says Lack Of 'Political Will' Slows Arrests Of Alleged War Criminals

Brussels, 6 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Carla del Ponte, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), said in Brussels today that a lack of "political will" is impeding the arrests of indicted war criminals.

Del Ponte is visiting Brussels today for talks with the European Union's foreign-policy chief, Javier Solana; the European Commission; and EU ambassadors.

After meeting with Solana, del Ponte told reporters that she is in Brussels seeking more support for her efforts to arrest the more than 20 indicted war criminals still at liberty. She said she was expecting results from this cooperation because she is "tired" of asking for the arrests "of [former Bosnia Serb President Radovan] Karadzic, [former head of the Bosnian Serb armed forces Ratko] Mladic, [and] of all the other 19 fugitives that we have down in the former Yugoslavia."

The chief prosecutor, whose court is located in The Hague in the Netherlands, said Serbia and Montenegro together with Croatia appeared to lack the necessary political will to carry out the arrests.

Solana told reporters the EU was putting "all possible pressure" on the governments involved, indicating he hoped Serbia and Montenegro would soon prove more responsive. "I think the European Union is putting all the pressure which is possible on Serbia and Montenegro," Solana said. "As you know, now there will be transfer of power in Serbia and Montenegro, and responsibilities will change, and the responsibilities on the military will change from one person to another, another leader. We will see how things evolve in the coming period of time, but the question of cooperation with [the] international tribunal is basic for us."

Del Ponte offered a markedly somber account on the cooperation of the Yugoslav and Croatian governments, effectively accusing both of complicity in hiding criminals indicted by the ICTY. Del Ponte said she had, once again, "informed" Solana of the need to arrest Ante Gotovina, a Croatian general the ICTY claims committed crimes against humanity and violated the customs of war when he led an operation against Serbs in Krajina in 1995. She said Gotovina is being "shuttled" between Croatia and Bosnia Herzegovina, adding that the Croatian authorities refrain from arresting him on their territory and that the same is true of Bosnian authorities and NATO's SFOR troops in Bosnia.

Del Ponte said no one can deny Ratko Mladic is in Serbia. She said authorities in Belgrade know Mladic is being protected by "parts" of the Serbian Army.

Del Ponte rejected suggestions that arresting Mladic could lead to dangerous splits within Serbia's armed forces. She said the recent voluntary surrender to The Hague of Vojislav Seselj, a nationalist hard-liner and former paramilitary leader, had taken place without problems and that the same would happen with Mladic. "It must be possible to obtain the arrest of Mladic," she said, adding that a few people in the army cannot impede his arrest. "What is important is that the will, the political will, exists to arrest him."

Del Ponte said The Hague tribunal also has information on the whereabouts of former Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic. She said Karadzic has moved from Republika Srpska to the Ostrog monastery in Montenegro. But del Ponte added that the administration of Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic continues to deny any knowledge of the move. She said Montenegro lacks the political will to arrest Karadzic.

EU officials today rejected suggestions Brussels was not applying sufficient pressure on either Serbia and Montenegro or Croatia. Nonetheless, one official, speaking on condition of anonymity, downplayed hints from the European Commission that the EU could cut this year's aid money to Serbia and Montenegro. He said the amount of money in question was comparatively small and that the funds serve "specific" purposes and mostly benefit "ordinary people" in Serbia and Montenegro.

The official indicated that greater pressure to cooperate with the ICTY is more likely to be brought to bear in talks on Belgrade's ambitions to sign a stabilization-and-association pact with the EU, as well as during the run-up to the EU's June Thessaloniki summit, which is expected to outline a new EU strategy for the entire western Balkans region.