BELGRADE, Yugoslavia — “I leave Belgrade with mixed feelings,” said Carla Del Ponte, Hague War Crimes Tribunal chief prosecutor, at the end of her three-day visit to the Yugoslav capital.
The attorney had met with the country’s leadership and representatives of non-governmental organizations.
“I have to say that my meeting with President Kostunica on Tuesday did not bring significant dialogue,” continued Del Ponte, adding that although she sought a dialogue with him, she was forced to listen to objections regarding the work of the tribunal.
According to sources from the president’s Cabinet, the atmosphere was somewhat more unpleasant than the Hague prosecutor’s account. Namely, as Del Ponte later complained to the pro-tribunal Fund for Humanitarian Law, “Kostunica (a former legal scholar) treated her like one of his students who hadn’t learned her lesson well,” telling her of the impossibility of extradition of Yugoslav citizens according to Yugoslav law and lecturing her on the repugnancy of the method of sealed indictments that the tribunal uses.
In the end, according to this source, the meeting abruptly ended once the Hague prosecutor realized that there was going to be no progress, and Del Ponte marched out of the Federal Palace with an angry look on her face, refusing to answer reporters’ questions.
Continuing her summary of her visit, Del Ponte said that she was, however, “encouraged” by the fact that she could establish the dialogue she sought with ministers and other senior government officials.
“These meetings weren’t always easy, and there are obviously issues of misunderstanding on both sides. However, a dialogue that may bring mutual understanding has begun,” she said.
“Yugoslavia cannot avoid cooperation with the Hague tribunal if it wishes to become a full-fledged member of the international community,” emphasized Del Ponte, adding that new sanctions against the country were possible if cooperation was withheld.
Del Ponte added that she had presented the Yugoslav authorities with two sealed indictments and that “the real test for the new authorities will be their readiness to hand over those indicted for war crimes.” According to Del Ponte, the newly elected Serbian prime minister, Zoran Djindjic, told her that “concrete cooperation with the Hague tribunal could be expected in two to three months.”
This differs somewhat from the public comments made by Djindjic following his meeting with Del Ponte on Wednesday evening. Djindjic had referred to the chief prosecutor’s demand that any one of the Hague indictees be turned over “as a sign of good faith” as “unrealistic.”
“Our view is that the position regarding war crimes and their executors should be first clarified in Serbia itself and only then in front of the tribunal,” said Djindjic. “We quickly have to address the question of war crimes, see whether there were any and who performed them, and then raise the question of responsibility before our own courts.
“Then, in that phase, we should invite international institutions to say whether our own courts are sufficiently independent and whether they are able to deal with the problem. If they are, then what is the purpose of making a show with international courts? … Our idea was that cooperation with the Hague tribunal should occur within the context of exchanging information, but Mrs. Del Ponte wasn’t thrilled with this suggestion.”
Indeed, it could be said that the Hague prosecutor “wasn’t thrilled” with the results of her visit, which does not mean that she will ease the pressure on Yugoslavia to hand over its citizens to be tried before a supra-national court. In referring to Kostunica’s stance, she said he “can and must change his mind” on future cooperation with The Hague.
It was clear that the main tactic of Del Ponte was twofold: using the carrot-and-stick approach to try to gain the concessions she seeks in order to continue the life of the controversial tribunal she represents, and trying to drive a wedge inside the new Yugoslav coalition leadership by praising some and criticizing others, regardless of the fact that they mostly expressed a common, fundamentally negative view of the tribunal.
Some observers are concerned that Del Ponte did not, in their estimation, give satisfactory answers to questions regarding possible indictments of NATO leaders for their 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia, NATO’s use of depleted uranium ammunition during the bombing campaign and initiating processes against Kosovo Albanian terrorists and Bosnian Muslim political leaders.
Aleksandar Pavic in Belgrade has covered Yugoslavia’s historic election and its dramatic aftermath for WorldNetDaily.com.