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War Crimes Prosecutor Blames Serbians, Bosnians for Shielding Fugitives

The chief prosecutor of the U.N. tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has described efforts to capture indicted war criminals as "dysfunctional." The prosecutor demanded that Serbian and Bosnian authorities be held accountable for failing to bring prominent suspects to justice.

Yugoslavia war crimes tribunal prosecutor Carla del Ponte says the failure of successor states to hand over key war crime suspects is making a mockery of the court.

In a report to the Security Council, Ms. del Ponte hailed Croatia's role in the capture of indicted war criminal Ante Gotovina. The former Croatian general was taken into custody last week on the island of Tenerife.

But she charged that other fugitives, such as former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, and his military chief, Ratko Mladic, are within reach of authorities in other parts of the former Yugoslavia. The prosecutor described efforts to capture the pair as "dysfunctional," and demanded an end to what she called the "cat-and-mouse game" that allows indicted war criminals to remain free.

"For 10 years, the international community has been playing a cat-and-mouse with Karadzic and Mladic," said Ms. del Ponte. "And for much of this time, the cats chose to wear blindfolds and to allow the mice to run from one hole to another. It is time for the international community, especially in Serbia and Montenegro and the Republika Srpska, to take concerted action to find the places where these fugitives are hiding and to arrest them and turn them over to the ICTY [International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia]. It is time now for the cats to stop suffering the ridicule of the mice."

The prosecutor said cooperation from Serbia and Montenegro has gotten worse at the same time as its leaders promise to help.

"Serbia and Montenegro's cooperation has, unfortunately deteriorated in the past months," added Ms. del Ponte. "There is no serious, well-articulated plan on the fugitives. The information passed to my office is scarce and unconvincing. The army of Serbia continues to hamper, both actively and passively, the cooperation of Serbia and Montenegro."

Serbia's U.N. ambassador, Nebojsa Kaludjerovic, denied there was any effort to obstruct the tribunal. He said his country had already done a lot to meet its obligations, and would fulfill them.

"As you know, the main obstacle is persons are not within reach of our law enforcement authorities," he added. "Serbia and Montenegro has no interest in hiding anything from the recent tragic history surrounding the bloody breakup of the former Yugoslavia and the ensuing civil wars. Admittedly, our people suffered enormously, and it is in our interest to bring to justice those responsible."

The comments came during the Security Council's annual briefing on the work of international war crimes tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda. The Yugoslavia tribunal is mandated to complete its trials by 2008 and adjudicate appeals by 2010. But prosecutor del Ponte said Thursday the court could not finish its work until all suspects had been taken into custody.