THE HAGUE–(Reuters)–UN prosecutor Louise Arbour said on Thursday a five-month war crimes investigation into Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was a race against time and the possible fallout from international diplomacy.
She was speaking to Reuters after confirming charges against Milosevic and four members of the Serb elite for allegedly orchestrating atrocities against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
The clock had been ticking throughout the inquiry–she said.
"We were driven by a now or never sense of urgency–by an issue that is central to our work – ensuring that the justice agenda did not get completely by-passed by the peace process."
"By that I mean that the accused would have escaped us altogether," the 52-year-old French Canadian said.
The international response to the indictment has been split between ringing praise from some–including the United States–and condemnation from others–like Russia and France.
But Arbour defended her decision to act at a sensitive time–when EU and Russian negotiators are seeking a peaceful exit from the Kosovo conflict.
"The UN Security Council gave us a very specific mandate–not only to bring charges but to arrest–prosecute and hold accountable persons at the highest level of responsibility."
She expressed confidence in her case against Milosevic–Serbian President Milan Milutinovic–Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic–armed forces chief of staff Dragoljub Ojdanic and Vlajko Stojiljkovic–Serbian interior minister.
"It’s a good case–it’s a solid case," she said.
Asked why the most serious crime of genocide was missing from the charge sheet – which accuses the five men of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war–she replied that her investigations were far from over.
"I said we’re not finished–we still haven’t been to Kosovo. There are lots of allegations about what we may find when we get there," Arbour said.
Among the crimes listed in the indictment is the murder of 45 Kosovo Albanians in the village of Racak in January. Among the 340 identified victims of alleged Serb aggression this year are a two-year-old boy and a 90-year-old-man.
Arbour side-stepped questions about her personal plans. She has been linked with a move to Canada’s Supreme Court before her term at the tribunal ends in the autumn of next year.
"There are quite a few matters that will remain unachieved when I go. I have lot of work to do," was all she would say.