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article imageUN prosecutor urges Balkans to bury hatchet, ahead of Karadzic verdict

By AFP     Mar 9, 2016 in World

The chief prosecutor of the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal Wednesday urged Balkan leaders to strive for greater reconciliation and stop using the lingering divisive rhetoric of the 1990s wars.

The call came as the long-awaited verdict against former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, accused of genocide and war crimes for his role in the Balkans conflict, is to be handed down at the UN court on March 24, after a marathon trial which opened in October 2009.

Karadzic will be the highest level official to be judged by the tribunal for the worst atrocities committed in Europe since World War II.

Since its creation in 1993, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has made "a major contribution towards achieving accountability" for the bloodshed which accompanied the break-up of Yugoslavia, chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz said.

But despite the passage of time he had been disappointed by the continuing bitter divisions between the Bosnian, Serb and Croatian communities.

After nine years in office, Brammertz said "one of my biggest frustrations" was that many political leaders are "still using rhetoric which is closer to some of the (past) statements" used to prosecute war crimes suspects.

Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) Serge Brammertz d...
Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) Serge Brammertz delivers a speech during a commemoration prior to a burial ceremony in Potocari Memorial Cemetery, on July 11, 2015
Elvis Barukcic, AFP/File

That was not "what I would expect from responsible politicians who are looking forward to joining the European project," he told reporters.

To see convicted war criminals receive a "hero's welcome" on their return home, or for some leaders in Republica Srpska to deny the Srebrenica genocide -- in which almost 8,0000 Muslim men and boys were killed -- happened "can only have a very negative impact on the entire reconciliation process."

Both Bosnia and Serbia are hoping to join the 28-nation European Union which is keeping a close eye on their cooperation with the court based in The Hague.

While Karadzic has been behind bars in the city since his arrest in 2008, the biggest question is whether radical ultranationalist Serb leader Vojislav Seselj will return to the Netherlands from Belgrade for the verdict in his own long-running war crimes case due on March 31.

ICTY judges last month also blasted Serbia for failing to arrest three suspects accused of witness-tampering, and charged Belgrade with failing to cooperate with the tribunal.

While he recognised the political realities were complex, Brammertz said many people were still refusing to accept what had happened and insisted countries had an obligation to comply with the court.

"A country that wants to join the European Union has to respect a number of rules. The rule of law is one of them. The respect for judicial decision is another one," he said.

"European leaders will take this into consideration," he said.

And he added that "as long as you have in Bosnia three different history books used by the Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian community with a totally different assessment about not only the wars but the last 200 years, well if a society cannot agree on a joint history, how do you want to move forward?"

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