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UN prosecutor to deliver key report on Serbia

Written by: Staff

BRUSSELS, Mar 31: U N war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte could decide the fate of Serbia's talks on closer ties with the European Union today by judging whether it has done all it can to catch top suspect Ratko Mladic.

The EU has threatened to call off the next round of talks due next Wednesday if del Ponte says Belgrade is still dragging its feet over arresting the wartime Bosnian Serb commander, indicted for genocide.

Del Ponte will deliver her opinion to EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, who on Thursday told Serbia it had until next week to show that it was seriously trying to have Mladic transferred to the Hague tribunal for former Yugoslavia.

''We can continue the negotiations on the very same day that full cooperation is reached which should lead to the arrest and transfer of Ratko Mladic,'' Rehn told reporters in Brussels.

''There has been a period of deterioration of cooperation with Serbia. Now, in the recent weeks, the situation may have changed to some extent, but that is precisely what I want to hear from Mrs del Ponte,'' he added.

During del Ponte's visit to Belgrade on Wednesday, Serbian officials asked her to show understanding for its ''complex political situation'' and not urge the EU to suspend the talks, Serbia's first step on the long road to possible membership.

They said such a step would have ''far-reaching negative consequences'' for stability and progress on democratic reforms.

The phrase is a coded warning that ultranationalists could oust the moderate government if it rushes to cooperate with the tribunal, where former strongman Slobodan Milosevic died this month.

Del Ponte did not speak to the media in Belgrade but a statement issued by Serbian President Boris Tadic after their talks noted del Ponte's concerns that cooperation had stopped.

Mladic is indicted with Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic for genocide over the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslims and the 43-month siege of Sarajevo in which over 11,000 people were killed.

Del Ponte says he is being sheltered by hardliners in Serbia, a charge Belgrade denies but with which Brussels agrees.

''We have a reasonable assumption that Serbia could arrest Mladic if it has the political will, and if this political will were translated into concrete actions,'' Rehn said.

The EU and Belgrade began talks on a so-called stabilisation and association agreement (SAA), the first rung on the ladder to EU membership, on Nov. 7 last year. Accession is not expected until 2015 at the earliest.


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