NATO criticised Balkan countries on Thursday for not helping to bring indicted war criminals to justice and called on them to live up to their international obligations.
NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer also urged Kosovo Albanians to remain calm in the event that the United Nations war crimes tribunal decided to indict Kosovo's newly elected Prime Minister Rasmush Haradinaj for war crimes.
Foreign ministers from the alliance called on Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro, and Croatia to improve cooperation with the tribunal and its chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte.
In all three cases, progress towards membership of the European Union and NATO - declared goals of Zagreb, Sarajevo and Belgrade - hinges on displaying a commitment to upholding international law by complying with the U.N. court.
Last month, del Ponte said Serbia's lack of cooperation with The Hague was "the single most important obstacle" to the court completing its work, and singled out the Serb half of Bosnia for failing to arrest a single war crimes suspect.
Foreign ministers of the 26-nation bloc, which has been responsible for peacekeeping in the troubled region after the wars of the last decade, said they were "deeply concerned" by del Ponte's assessment to the U.N. Security Council.
"(The countries of the Western Balkans) must ... cooperate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, including bringing to justice all those who are indicted by the Tribunal," they said in a statement.
The tribunal, based in The Hague, was formed 10 years ago to prosecute war crimes and human rights violations during the wars of the 1990s that accompanied the break-up of Yugoslavia.
POSSIBLE UNREST IN KOSOVO
Del Ponte is under pressure from the Security Council to wrap up all investigations by the end of 2004, finish all trials by 2008 and close down by the end of 2010.
She is considering whether to prosecute Haradinaj for war crimes committed during the 1998-99 Kosovo war, a move which western diplomats say could trigger unrest in the Serbian province, where the alliance has 17,500 troops.
Haradinaj is a former regional commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army, which fought Serbian troops, and is set to become prime minister under a coalition deal that parliament is expected to vote on this month after elections in October.
"There is an absolute need for Haradinaj and his followers to behave responsibly if he is indicted by the (tribunal)," NATO Secretary-General de Hoop Scheffer said.
NATO members have agreed to keep the present number of troops in Kosovo because of the level of tension there, he said.
Twenty people indicted for war crimes are still at large, including Bosnian Serb wartime civilian leader Radovan Karadzic, his army commander, General Ratko Mladic, and Croatian General Ante Gotovina.
Karadzic and Mladic face two counts of genocide for the slaughter of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in July 1995, and for the 43-month siege of Sarajevo which killed around 12,000 citizens.
Del Ponte has repeatedly said that Mladic is hiding in Serbia under the protection of sympathizers, though Belgrade denies it. Karadzic is believed to be somewhere in Bosnia or Montenegro.
Gotovina is The Hague's third most wanted man, accused of ordering massacres of Croatian Serbs in 1995. Del Ponte said "there were strong indications" that Gotovina was protected by a support network, including "within state structures."