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U.N. war crimes prosecutor optimistic about leaders' arrests

WASHINGTON—Two fugitive Bosnian Serb leaders who are accused of directing massacres in the Balkans may be arrested soon, the prosecutor for a U.N. war crimes tribunal said Tuesday.

Carla Del Ponte, the Italian lawyer who's overseeing the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, told an audience at the U.S. Institute for Peace that leaders in Serbia were cooperating in the search for Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic and that she expected them to be captured by the end of the year.

The two are suspected of orchestrating mass murders of Muslim Bosnians in the mid-1990s during Bosnia's civil war.

"As long as Mladic and Karadzic remain at large, the tribunal will not have accomplished its main objective: bringing those responsible for the crimes to justice," Del Ponte said.

She credited Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica with pursuing fugitive war-crimes suspects more aggressively.

Karadzic and Mladic have been on the lam since 1996, when the tribunal charged them for their alleged roles in atrocities including the July 1995 massacre of 7,000 Muslim men and boys in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica.

Del Ponte lamented that the two may not be apprehended before the 10-year anniversary of the Srebrenica killings, the worst act of violence in Europe since World War II.

"This is an insult to the victims," said Del Ponte, who vowed not to attend next month's memorials for Srebrenica victims unless Karadzic and Mladic have been detained. "This is a shame for the international community and the authorities in the region."

If they aren't brought to trial, she warned, "The next generation may want to render justice with blood, tears and sweat."

Sympathetic Serb civilians and authorities are thought to have aided Karadzic and Mladic in evading arrest.

The tribunal has indicted more than 70 people, and 20 have been taken to The Hague, Netherlands, for trial in the last six months. Ten remain at large, according to a report submitted last month to the U.N. Security Council. The tribunal's most prominent defendant is former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who was arrested in April 2001.

The Bush administration rewarded Serbia's increased cooperation in the manhunt last week by releasing $10 million in aid that it had withheld because of the country's unwillingness to pursue the remaining fugitives.

In conjunction with the release, Nicholas Burns, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, visited the Balkans to call on leaders there to turn in war-crimes suspects who are still at large.

"If Serbia can find Mr. Karadzic and Mr. Mladic and send them to The Hague, Serbia can have a new beginning," Burns said last week at a news briefing.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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