Del Ponte-Serbia making slow progress on suspects

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AMSTERDAM, Oct 3 (Reuters) UN prosecutor Carla del Ponte said today Serbia's progress in capturing suspected war criminals, key to its European Union future, was rather slow, and she feared it may lead to failure.

''During my most recent visits to Belgrade, everyone I met, both on the political and on the operative level, assured me of Belgrade's commitment to full cooperation with the tribunal. I welcomed this declared commitment,'' she said in a statement.

''However, although we have seen some results in the past four months, progress has been rather slow. We are still waiting for documents, some of which were requested last year.'' Four war crimes suspects are still fugitive from the UN war crimes tribunal. All are ethnic Serbs. The most wanted among them are Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic and his political boss Radovan Karadzic, both charged with genocide.

''I am increasingly worried that this slow progress may not lead to a positive outcome,'' Del Ponte said.

She also repeated calls for full and unconditional access to certain government archives.

The European Union and Serbia wrapped up technical talks last month on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA), the first step to eventual EU membership, but before signing, Brussels wants Del Ponte's assurances on Serbia's efforts to arrest the fugitives.

In her eight years as chief UN war crimes prosecutor, she has visited Belgrade a dozen times, mostly berating governments for protecting or failing to look for fugitives, but praising them after arrests.

Her recommendations resulted in the freeze of Serbia's talks with the EU in 2006, and their resumption last June. With her term ending on December 31, she has urged Brussels to be firm with Serbia, and not let politics override justice.

Just prior to the decision to resume talks an aide to Mladic, former Bosnian Serb general Zdravko Tolimir was arrested in Bosnia's Serb Republic near the Serbian border.

Three weeks later another indictee, Serb police general Vlastimir Djordjevic was arrested by Serb and Montenegrin police and handed over to the Hague tribunal.

REUTERS SKB PM1717

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