Monday, October 16, 2006

Chief U.N. prosecutor accuses Serbia of making no effort to catch top fugitive Mladic

LUXEMBOURG (AP) - The chief prosecutor of the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal on Monday accused Serbia of making no effort to catch top suspect Radko Mladic, despite the European Union's insistence that the fugitive general's capture was vital for the Balkan nation's membership ambitions.

"It's almost a smoke screen," Carla Del Ponte told reporters, after briefing EU foreign ministers. "There is no real political will and investigative will to find Mladic."

The EU has suspended negotiations with Serbia on a trade-and-aid agreement designed to pave the way for EU membership, saying Belgrade must prove it is fully cooperating with the U.N. war crimes tribunal.

Mladic has evaded justice since his 1995 indictment for the massacre of about 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica during the war in neighboring Bosnia.

Del Ponte said the EU should keep up the pressure to persuade the Serbs to move against Mladic, who prosecutors believe to be hiding in Serbia with the help of hard-liners in the police and military.

"They will never act to find and arrest Mladic," Del Ponte complained. "Probably, they want him to voluntarily surrender."

Following the meeting with Del Ponte, the EU ministers met Serbia's Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica to press him to cooperate with the tribunal, saying Serbia's cooperation could open the way to speedy conclusion of the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU.

"We are ready to resume the negotiations on the very day that Serbia resumes cooperation," said Olli Rehn, the EU commissioner in charge of membership talks. "The lack of progress is a source of frustration for us."

Kostunica was also grilled over his nation's new draft constitution, which has raised concerns within the EU because it declares independence-seeking Kosovo an integral part of Serb territory.

European officials have said Belgrade's position on Kosovo was as provocative and, if passed in an Oct. 28-29 referendum, it could scuttle U.N.-led talks on the future status of the Serb province.

In a news conference, Kostunica insisted Serb authorities were committed to cooperation with the tribunal, and said the new constitution would open the way to a new democratic era in Serbia. He stressed that Serbia would not accept an independent Kosovo, but said his government would consider "the highest possible substantial autonomy" for the province.

Status talks, led by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, started early this year but have yet to produce results, with the Serb's rejecting calls by the ethnic Albanian majority for full independence. Kosovo has been run by the United Nations and NATO since a 1999 war.

Ahtisaari was expected to report to the U.N. Security Council by the end of the year on a possible solution to Kosovo's future; however, he warned last week that there was no negotiated deal in sight.

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