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US Maintains Support for Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal

The U.S. ambassador for war crimes is playing down differences with the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal. The differences emerged last week after the ambassador testified before the U.S. Congress that it was time for the tribunal to start thinking about closing up shop.

Ambassador at Large for War Crimes, Pierre-Richard Prosper last week questioned the integrity of the U.N. court, in testimony before the U.S. House International Relations Committee. He accused it of mismanagement, abuse, inefficiency and being out of touch with the people it was set up to help.

Wednesday, playing down those remarks, Ambassador Prosper insisted that the Bush Administration fully supports the tribunal - including its demand that Bosnian Serb former leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic be brought to trial.

"Karadzic and Mladic will go to The Hague. It could happen tomorrow, it could happen the year after. The tribunal will not close before they are brought to justice in The Hague," Ambassador Prosper said.

Chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, sitting by the ambassador's side, also insisted the U.S. supports her work. Last week, Ambassador Prosper said the tribunals for both Rwanda and Yugoslavia should focus on the end game, wrapping up business by 2008. Its a date the prosecutor herself had previously mentioned, and one she still stands by - provided all the people she has indicted are in custody.

Both sides also agree that lower level offenders should be tried at home, but Carla Del Ponte said in the former Yugoslavia, that is not yet possible.

When pushed to give the specifics of what he meant by abuse, Ambassador Prosper could only come up with one example: so-called fee-splitting, where defense lawyers, paid for by the United Nations, share their salaries with the families of war crimes suspects.

Ms. Del Ponte said it was a defense - not a prosecution - problem, and court officials say they are working on it.

In the meantime, the tribunal's most highly publicized trial - that of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic - continues. In a rare comment on an ongoing-case, Prosecutor Del Ponte paid the former leader a compliment.

"As you see, Milosevic is not represented by defense counsel but is doing (it) himself and he's doing very well and he's right to defend himself. But we are also working very well, and hard," Ms. Del Ponte said.

The tribunal's budget, meanwhile, which has been held up by the Americans, is being debated this week at the United Nations.