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Thursday, August 26, 1999 Published at 21:36 GMT 22:36 UK

World: Europe

Prosecutor defiant on war crimes arrest

General Talic (right) will appear before the tribunal next week

The UN's chief war crimes prosecutor, Louise Arbour, has defended the use of secret indictments after bitter criticism of the arrest of Bosnian Serb General Talic on Wednesday.

[ image:  ]
Austrian police arrested General Talic, who heads the Bosnian Serb army, in a surprise move as he attended a conference in Vienna on reducing tensions in Bosnia.

The Bosnian Serb government reacted angrily, saying the action was "incomprehensible".

But in an interview with the BBC Ms Arbour said the issuing of secret arrest warrants provided the chance of successfully bringing suspects before the tribunal in The Hague.

[ image: Ms Arbour says she is confident all suspects will be arrested]
Ms Arbour says she is confident all suspects will be arrested
She said the UN tribunal would abandon the practice - if the Bosnian Serb Government acted to execute more than 20 arrest warrants already in their possession.

"If they discharge their obligations we wouldn't have to take these kind of measures and call on third parties to assist us," she said.

Until they do so, Ms Arbour said, "they have no standing to complain that the law is following its course."

Chief war crimes prosecutor Louise Arbour: "This is our best chance of getting peopel arrested"
She added that she was confident General Talic would be convicted and said there were numerous other methods that could be used to bring wartime Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and military commander, Ratko Mladic, before the tribunal.

Not even Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic could feel safe from arrest, she said.

Court appearance

[ image: General Talic has been indicted for crimes against humanity]
General Talic has been indicted for crimes against humanity
General Talic has been flown to the Netherlands and is expected to appear before the tribunal on Tuesday to face war crimes charges.

He is the highest-ranking officer from the former Yugoslavia to be arrested on war crimes charges.

It is alleged that General Talic ordered and implemented a plan to purge the Prijedor and Sanski Most areas of Bosnian Muslims, Bosnian Croats and other non-Serbs - an operation in which hundreds were killed.

He could face life imprisonment if convicted.

OSCE concerns

BBC Correspondent James Robbins: "The indictment links him directly with crimes against humanity"
A spokesman for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which hosted the Vienna conference attended by General Talic, has denied the organisation knew of the arrest plan.

And he warned that the incident could be potentially damaging to the organisation's short-term operations in the Balkan region.

There has also been speculation that many former and serving officials from the former Yugoslavia may now think twice before leaving their country.

However, Ms Arbour denied suggestions that seeking justice for war crimes could upset the healing process within Bosnia and said that bringing suspects to trial was an intrinsic part of bringing long-term peace to the region.

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