DelPonte wants Nato War Crimes task force

COPENHAGEN, Feb 6, 2000 -- (Reuters) International war crimes Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte has urged NATO to set up a task force to hunt down war criminals in the former Yugoslavia, the Danish newspaper Politiken reported on Sunday.

Del Ponte's task force proposal adds a new specific element to her earlier calls on NATO to step up efforts to catch suspects such as former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic.

"I have proposed to NATO's secretary-general to be more active by establishing a special NATO task force, which should apprehend those indicted," Del Ponte told Politiken, reiterating her often stated view that the alliance had been too passive in its search for war criminals.

Although the Western allies still have more than 20,000 troops in Bosnia four years after NATO peacekeepers occupied the former Yugoslav republic to end the 1992-95 civil war, Karadzic and others suspected of atrocities remain at large.

"It is a problem that NATO does not make it a priority to capture war criminals in the Balkans," Del Ponte said.

"It seems to me that they are only apprehending indicted war criminals if they happen to stumble over them."

NATO was considering the proposal, the newspaper said, adding that Del Ponte thought her task force idea had been received positively. NATO has said its commitment to apprehending those indicted for war crimes was beyond question.

The alliance was mulling political and military complications possibly arising from the setting up of a special unit to hunt down war criminals, the chief prosecutor said.

NATO's hesitation was linked to considerations regarding Russia, which has its own peacekeepers in the Balkans and retains ties to Belgrade, and also to fears that Serbian troops might retaliate by taking Western peacekeeping soldiers as hostages should any of their leaders be caught and brought to trial, the paper said.

In late March, the war crimes tribunal in The Hague is scheduled to open a case against Bosnian Serb General Radislav Krstic, indicted for ordering a massacre of up to 7,000 Bosnian Moslem civilians in Srebrenica in July, 1995, Politiken said.