Del Ponte prepares to leave war crimes court

Del Ponte is still hoping to see Mladic and Karadzic behind bars Keystone

United Nations war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte of Switzerland has confirmed that she will step down from her post in The Hague in September.

This content was published on January 30, 2007 - 23:00

Del Ponte, who has been chief prosecutor for the tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for almost eight years, said she wanted to hand over to someone else to complete the work of the court by 2010.

"After eight years I will not stay any longer," Del Ponte, aged 59, told journalists in the Netherlands city on Tuesday. "I think it is the right time to leave."

While deeply disappointed about the death of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic last year just months before his trial had been due to conclude, Del Ponte said she believed she had done a lot, with proceedings now running against 61 accused.

"If you look at what we have done, it is an historical achievement," she said, noting she had resolved many thorny issues such as access to witnesses and documents in the Balkans.

"It's time for me to go back to the normal life. I see that I can go very easily because we have no other investigations. We are just preparing trials and conducting trials," she said. "For my successor it will be an easier task."

No remorse

Del Ponte said she had not seen any real remorse from those she had tried and few signs of reconciliation on the ground.

"It takes time, generations before we arrive at a real reconciliation," she said.

The tribunal, set up by the UN Security Council in 1993 as bloody conflicts tore the former Yugoslavia apart, is due to finish all trials by 2008 and all appeals by 2010.

Del Ponte said she hoped former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his military chief Ratko Mladic would be caught before she steps down, or at least before 2010.

"My hope is to get Karadzic and Mladic before September when I must leave... Let's see whether I will be a happy prosecutor or a frustrated prosecutor in September leaving The Hague."

But she said she feared some European Union states could push for EU membership talks with Serbia to resume, damaging the chances of Belgrade handing over key war crimes suspects.

Keep up pressure

Del Ponte, who travels to Brussels on Wednesday said she would urge the EU to keep up its pressure on Serbia to cooperate with the war crimes tribunal as a condition of entry talks, and deliver Karadzic and Mladic.

Del Ponte said she felt a change in mood and a softer stance towards Serbia among the international community as a UN plan looks set to grant Serbia's Kosovo province virtual independence and after Montenegro voted for independence from Belgrade.

"Now the situation is sensitive and delicate because some
European Union states ... they think 'poor Serbia'," Del Ponte commented.

The European Commission decided to freeze talks with Serbia in May last year after Belgrade failed to keep a promise to arrest Mladic, but del Ponte said Italy, Austria and Spain were considering resuming negotiations.

"This is extremely damaging for me because I know Belgrade and I know the authorities there," she said. "If they resume negotiations without full cooperation with us ... I think we can forget those two fugitives, particularly Mladic."

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia was established by Resolution 827 of the United Nations Security Council in May 1993.
Based in The Hague, it is the first international body for the prosecution of war crimes since the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials held after the Second World War.
The tribunal has jurisdiction over individuals responsible for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in the territory of former Yugoslavia after January 1, 1991.

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Carla Del Ponte

Del Ponte, aged 59, became the tribunal's third chief prosecutor in 1999, after South Africa's Richard Goldstone and Canada's Louise Arbour, but has served two terms and become synonymous with the court's attempt to arrest and try its highest-profile fugitives.

She was Switzerland's federal prosecutor before she went to The Hague and specialised in investigating organised crime and drug trafficking.

Del Ponte said she would talk to the Swiss government about what she might do next, but would not rule out a UN job.

She said the Swiss government wanted her to come back, partly because of her high protection and expenses costs.

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Mladic and Karadzic

Ratko Mladic, aged 64, commanded the Bosnian Serb forces during the 1991-95 Bosnian war in which an estimated 200,000 people were killed.

He has been charged with genocide for the deaths of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims in the UN-declared safe zone of Srebrenica in July 1995.

Mladic is wanted in connection with war crimes alongside Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb leader who is also on the run.

In March, Del Ponte said she felt personal defeat after the death in his prison cell of the former Yugoslav president, Slobodan Milosevic.

She added that the death made the arrest of Karadzic and Mladic even more pressing.

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