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World: 'I'm A Frustrated Prosecutor'

THE HAGUE, February 1, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Carla Del Ponte, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), announced this week that she will retire in September. RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Sophia Kornienko interviewed Del Ponte on January 31.

RFE/RL: According to its current mandate, the war crimes tribunal is due to close in 2010. Since its founding in 1993, the tribunal has served indictments on 161 people from the former Yugoslavia. One hundred of them have already been tried and sentenced. But the court’s two most-wanted men, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, remain at large. Is it really possible that the tribunal will shut its doors even if its top indictees are not caught?

Carla Del Ponte: The final decision is by the [UN] Security Council. But the president [of the tribunal] and I hope that there will never be this kind of decision, to close the tribunal without having Karadzic and Mladic on trial by the ICTY. Because this tribunal was created expressly for those most responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina. And Karadzic and Mladic, after [former Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic, are the most responsible. The creation of this tribunal cannot be ended abruptly without having Karadzic and Mladic in The Hague.

RFE/RL: And yet, it’s a distinct possibility that the two will not be delivered to justice, despite the pressure being applied on Serbia. Will you retire with a feeling of great disappointment if Karadzic and Mladic remain as fugitives?

Del Ponte: I'm not leaving now.  I'm staying until September, so I hope to change the situation, because of course I'm a frustrated prosecutor since for eight years I have been searching and asking to have Karadzic and Mladic in The Hague. So I hope that the next weeks, the next months, will be a full success for the tribunal and for the prosecutor, to have both in The Hague.

RFE/RL: What has been your biggest achievement in office and your biggest failure?

Unfortunately, [Milosevic] died and so we lost the possibility to finish the trial. ... That's life -- that the accused, from time to time, die before the end of the trial.

Del Ponte: You know, I'm not at the end of my mandate. And although I have never thought about it, the big achievement for the office of the prosecutor is what we [managed] to execute: the arrest of many, many of our fugitives and the possibility to conduct their trials and obtain convictions. That is the achievement. The achievement is that [those in positions of high responsibility], particularly in the military, responsible for these crimes, were arrested and put on trial. Before the existence of this tribunal, it was never done. So that is a great achievement. And I will not tell you what our failures are.

RFE/RL: Wasn’t the death of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, while in custody at The Hague, a major failure for the tribunal?

Del Ponte: No, absolutely not. Of course, unfortunately he died and so we lost the possibility to finish the trial. But all the evidence we presented still exists and we use this evidence, although in other trials. So, that's life -- that the accused, from time to time, die before the end of the trial. That is not exceptional. But of course, we would have been better off if we could have finished the trial. But the truth of the facts are now evident.

RFE/RL: Do you believe the tribunal has the power to change attitudes in the Balkans and to foster reconciliation? Have any of the people you prosecuted expressed genuine remorse for their actions?

Del Ponte: About remorse, I did not see remorse in our accused, even the accused who pleaded guilty. But who knows? Sometimes it's difficult to make a proper evaluation because that is an inside world. And reconciliation? Reconciliation is something that will take a long, long time, generations. But the important thing is we know that the right direction is this one. The important thing is to have the knowledge that this is the right way and we must continue and it will be possible to achieve reconciliation. Of course, the activity of the tribunal is just a contribution to that. It depends also on many other issues.

RFE/RL: You have repeatedly complained about Russia’s lack of cooperation with the tribunal. General Vlastimir Djordjevic, who is charged with war crimes in Kosovo, is one suspect you are seeking, whom you believe is in Russia.  Do you see Moscow’s attitude as a relic of the Cold War?

Del Ponte: I don't know. I'm not going so far. I'm just always asking Russia to cooperate with us and to arrest Djordjevic but up to now, we've had no feedback on that. What we get is that they do not know if Djordjevic is in Russia, even though once I gave them an address in Russia, because I even have the address where he was. I don't know if he is still there. But they are not cooperating with us, unfortunately, and I even really don't know why.

RFE/RL: You have even said that Russia behaves as if the ICTY did not exist. Are those words not too strong?

Del Ponte: No, because [of] the example of [Dragan] Zelenovic. Zelenovic, unfortunately, was arrested in Siberia and they refused to send Zelenovic to us, despite our arrest warrant, and they sent him to Bosnia-Herzegovina. And it was the authorities in Bosnia-Herzegovina that decided to send Zelenovic back to us. So Russia is not considering the existence of the tribunal.

(RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Irina Lagunina contributed to this report)

Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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