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Del Ponte warns EU against resuming cooperation talks with Serbia

dpa German Press Agency
Published: Wednesday January 31, 2007

Brussels- Carla Del Ponte, the United Nations chief prosecutor for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia, on Wednesday warned the European Union against resuming cooperation talks with Serbia, saying key fugitives must first be handed over to the tribunal. Del Ponte, who met EU chief diplomat Javier Solana, told reporters any reopening of stalled discussions with Belgrade would send the "wrong signal" to Serbian leaders who continue to refuse calls for the arrest of former Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic and other key war-crime suspects.

"I hope the EU will continue to support our needs," Del Ponte told reporters.

The chief UN prosecutor said she had "some preoccupations" that the EU was preparing to resume negotiations on a new cooperation pact with Serbia.

"This is my worry ... it would jeopardize what we absolutely need now," said Del Ponte, adding that following recent elections in Serbia, this was a "crucial time" to step up pressure for the arrest of Mladic and other war-crimes indictees.

Belgrade must be told clearly that any reopening of cooperation talks with the EU was conditional on Mladic's transfer to the tribunal, she said.

Del Ponte's warning comes ahead of a visit to Belgrade by a high- level EU delegation, including Solana, German Foreign Minister Frank- Walter Steinmeier and EU enlargement chief Olli Rehn.

All 27 EU foreign ministers are expected to review the bloc's strained ties with Serbia at a meeting in Brussels on February 12.

The EU froze negotiations on a first-ever stabilization and association agreement with Serbia in May last year, demanding that Belgrade show "full cooperation" with the UN court.

But several states - including Spain, Hungary and Slovenia - have said in recent weeks that the EU must not isolate Serbia, especially since Belgrade's goodwill and cooperation will be crucial in ensuring a peaceful deal on the final status of Kosovo, Serbia's breakaway Albanian-majority province.

Those seeking a softer line on Belgrade say that while talks must resume, a final deal should only be sealed once Mladic is sent to The Hague.

Del Ponte warned, however, that such a move would send a "bad signal" to Belgrade.

The prosecutor said Solana had reassured her of full EU support and said he would speak "very openly" to Serbian officials next week.

She insisted that Serbian authorities knew of Mladic's whereabouts and could arrest him at any time.

A failure to transfer Mladic to The Hague for trial before the end of her mandate in September 2007 would be a cause for "great, great deception," said Del Ponte.

The UN Security Council has instructed the tribunal to finish its trials by 2008 and conclude the appeals process within another two years, before closing down.

Mladic, a former head of the Bosnian Serb Army is charged with genocide in connection with the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of Muslim men and boys, among other crimes.

© 2006 dpa German Press Agency