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UN Chief Denies Rwandan Pressure Influenced Call for New War Crimes Prosecutor

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan denied that pressure from the Rwandan government influenced his decision to call for a new prosecutor to oversee the Rwandan war crimes tribunal.

On Tuesday, Mr. Kofi Annan made a formal request to Security Council president to remove Carla del Ponte from her post as chief prosecutor of the Rwandan genocide court based in Tanzania.

Ms. del Ponte is also heading the U.N. tribunal that is trying those accused of war crimes in the former Yugoslavia. Mr. Annan wants her to remain as chief prosecutor for the U.N. tribunal in this case which is in The Hague.

Ms. del Ponte, a Swiss judge, was appointed in 1999 to head both tribunals for four years. Her contract is due to expire in September.

Officials from the Rwandan government have accused Ms. del Ponte of, according them, second-class justice. Rwandans have called for Ms. del Ponte to step down, claiming that she ran the court poorly and spent less of her time on the Rwandan process.

Ms. del Ponte is responsible for investigating the deaths of 800,000 Rwandans, most of them ethnic Tutsis.

She has said the predominantly Tutsi government of Rwanda is afraid of what she may uncover if she investigates possible retaliation killings by the Tutsi-led army that may have resulted in up to 30,000 deaths.

This led to speculation that the U.N. chief's decision was influenced by the Rwandan government. Mr. Annan rejected that saying Wednesday that Rwandan pressure did not play a role in his decision. "There's has been no politicking. If there has been, it has not been at my level and there has been no pressure," he said.

Mr. Annan says that it is time to separate the roles because the workload is too great for one prosecutor, and because the courts are close to completing their work.

Mr. Annan says he made the decision to replace Ms. del Ponte in the interest of speeding a complicated and expensive process, which the U.N. is working to bring to a close.