Del Ponte critical of Serbia in report to EU

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LUXEMBOURG, Oct 15 (Reuters) The chief UN war crimes prosecutor told the European Union today that Serbia's cooperation with her tribunal had improved somewhat in the last year but was still insufficient.

It was not immediately clear whether her critical report would enable the 27-nation EU to initial an agreement on closer ties with Serbia, which would be the first rung on the ladder to eventual membership of the bloc.

''I confirm that the situation today is better than it was a year ago. However, cooperation is still too slow and not yet sufficient,'' Carla Del Ponte said in a written briefing delivered at a meeting with EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg.

''I cannot give a positive assessment of full cooperation until Ratko Mladic is arrested and transferred to the Hague,'' Del Ponte said in a reference to the former Bosnian Serb military commander believed to be hiding in Serbia.

The EU says it will only sign the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) once Belgrade cooperates fully with the Hague tribunal, leading to the arrest and transfer of remaining war crimes indictees.

The prosecutor said she was absolutely convinced that Serbia had the means to locate and arrest the fugitives, and she would return to Belgrade on October 25-26.

European diplomats were hoping the prospect of moving closer to EU membership would give Serbia more incentive not only to catch Mladic and other fugitives but also to cooperate in talks on the future of the breakaway province of Kosovo.

The EU broke off negotiations with Serbia in May 2006 after Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica broke a promise to arrest Mladic. Talks resumed this year after a reformist coalition took office in April and the text was completed last month.

Mladic is wanted on genocide charges over the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of some 7,000 Bosnian Muslims. Serbia last Friday offered a 1.42 million dollar reward for information leading to his capture.

Del Ponte said that while there had been some progress on the delivery of documents she sought as evidence: ''I still have a number of very important outstanding requests for assistance and my staff is still denied access to crucial archives.'' Likewise, while the new government had put in place new structures to cooperate with the tribunal: ''We assess that, although there has been some activity in the efforts to locate the fugitives and identify networks protecting them, these actions were slow, irresolute and unsystematic.'' REUTERS SKB PM2007

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