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Serbo Journal

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Devil will retire

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – The chief prosecutor of the UN war crimes tribunal confirmed today that she will retire in September, marking the end of an era in international law.

Carla Del Ponte, the tribunal's third and longest serving chief prosecutor, will be remembered primarily for overseeing former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic's genocide trial, which ended before a verdict could be reached after he died of a heart attack in his cell in March.

"After eight years, I have done my work. It's time for me to go back to a normal life," she told reporters Tuesday in The Hague. In a wide-ranging question-and-answer session, Del Ponte said that in the dozens of trials she has supervised – including 20 in which the defendants pleaded guilty – "I never saw one (defendant) who had real remorse." Expressions of regret were only designed to ease their sentences, she said.

Del Ponte warned that the two former Bosnian Serb leaders most wanted by the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal could go free unless they are caught before the tribunal is closed in 2010 and if the UN Security Council takes no further action. Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb political leader, and his top general, Ratko Mladic, have evaded arrest since the UN tribunal issued indictments against them in 1995 for genocide and other war crimes committed during the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia. The Security Council has instructed the tribunal to finish its last trials by 2008 and conclude the appeals process within another two years, before closing down.

If the court no longer exists, its arrest warrants against Karadzic and Mladic will become invalid. "If the tribunal must close the door by 2010, they (the Council) must find another solution" for the remaining fugitives, Del Ponte told reporters. Del Ponte repeated her assertion that Serbian authorities know Mladic's whereabouts and could arrest him at any time. "It's a political decision," she said.

"Mladic is within reach. I believe the intelligence services know where he is," she said. If the government gave the order today to arrest him, "I could have him here by the evening," she said. Until last spring, the Serb government was in frequent contact with him to persuade him to voluntarily surrender to the court, as more than a dozen other fugitives had done, she said. But nothing is known about the location of Karadzic, whose flight from justice is financed by organized crime and drug money, Del Ponte said. Another four fugitives are at large.

She urged the EU not to resume preliminary talks with Serbia, aimed at paving the way for Serbia to join the 27-country, until it fulfills its pledge to fully co-operate with the tribunal. A resumption of talks on a Stabilization and Association Agreement with Serbia would be "extremely damaging," said Del Ponte. She will meet the EU's foreign policy chief Javiar Solana in Brussels on Wednesday as part of her campaign with EU members to block the talks. Del Ponte said she hoped a coalition of democratic countries headed by President Boris Tadic will form the next government in Belgrade following Serb elections, since it would co-operate more with the tribunal than a nationalist government. "Yes, it would make a difference," she said.

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