Bosnian Serb PM visits ICTY

THE HAGUE, May 30, 2000 -- (Reuters) - Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik visited the UN criminal tribunal for former Yugoslavia on Monday, the first senior political leader from the republic to do so.

During some two hours of talks, the Western-backed Dodik and tribunal President Claude Jorda discussed boosting cooperation and trust between the Serb republic and the United Nations court, Dodik told reporters.

"We talked about the need to strengthen the authority of the court in the former Yugoslavia and so we discussed activities such as seminars with the participation of tribunal personnel," he said, speaking in Serbo-Croat.

So as to strengthen its authority, the court should assert its independence. It must "show it is not a political tribunal and ...that it is concerned with individual responsibility for every crime that has been committed," Dodik said.

The tribunal came under fire last week from Russia, which accused it of being politicized and anti-Serb - a charge swiftly rejected by the court, NATO and the United States.

Also last week, Yugoslav Justice Minister Petar Jojic fiercely attacked UN chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte and said the Hague court was a "criminal tribunal" to which he would never allow any Yugoslav citizens to be extradited.

Dodik said there was a widespread public perception in Serbia and in Bosnia's Serb republic, which was created along with a Moslem-Croat federation under the 1995 Dayton peace treaty, that the tribunal was collectively trying nations.

He and Jorda had discussed ways to change that perception.

"We in the Serb republic believe that the war in Bosnia Herzegovina was a civil war and that, within such a war, crimes were committed on all sides and by members of all nations and that therefore the prosecution of war criminals should not stay confined to only one period of time or one nation," he said.

Dodik and Jorda also discussed the need to speed up tribunal proceedings, shortening the length of pre-trial detentions.

Dodik said the length of detention was deterring those indicted from giving themselves up. Lengthy detention was also the prime complaint from the detainees he had visited in the tribunal's cells, he said.

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