Serbia is cooperating with the U.N. war crimes tribunal for former Yugoslavia but the arrest of the fugitive former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic is crucial, the chief prosecutor said Thursday.
Serbia's bid to join the European Union has been stalled because Europe's most wanted fugitive remains at large and prosecutor Serge Brammertz's assessment of Serbia's cooperation with the tribunal is considered very important when the EU decides on Serbia's integration into the bloc.
Brammertz told the U.N. Security Council on Thursday that "Serbia's cooperation with my office has continued to progress."
"Prosecution requests to access documents and archives are being dealt with more expeditiously and effectively," he said, stressing that "this level of assistance" is crucial during current and future trials and must be maintained.
But Brammertz said "the most critical aspect of Serbia's cooperation is the need to apprehend the fugitives."
He said one of his "highest priorities" is to apprehend Mladic and Goran Hadzic, a former leader of rebel Serbs in Croatia.
Serbia's leaders told Brammertz last month that capturing Mladic is a priority for the Balkan country. But a government official has said a majority of Serbs still are opposed to his extradition to the tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.
Mladic is wanted for the massacre of more than 7,000 Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995 and other crimes of the Bosnian war. He had lived freely in Serbia for years, under protection from the hardliners in the army and police. Hadzic is wanted for alleged crimes against non-Serbs during the 1991-95 conflict in Croatia that followed the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.
As for Croatia's cooperation, Brammertz said the Ministry of Justice and the Office of the State Prosecutor are assisting in responding to requests from the tribunal.
"The central issue of concern remains the still unresolved request to locate and obtain key military documents related to Operation Storm of 1995," he said, referring to the Croatian campaign that drove Serbs out of the southern Krajina region which they had seized four years earlier.
Brammertz said Bosnia continues to respond to all prosecution requests, but he expressed concern about the possible departure of international staff from the Special Department of War Crimes at the end of December.
He blamed "the lack of political will" for the failure to renew their contracts and warned that current trials and investigations "could be jeopardized" if these staff members leave. "Immediate action is needed" to ensure that they remain on the job, he said.