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The authorities in Belgrade must continue cooperating with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia by providing access to documents and witnesses, Human Rights Watch said today.

In letters sent to Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, Human Rights Watch welcomed their efforts to facilitate the surrender or arrest of people who have been indicted by the tribunal, and urged them to continue.

Today Former Yugoslav Army chief of staff Dragoljub Ojdanic, charged along with Slobodan Milosevic for crimes committed during the Kosovo war, traveled to The Hague to surrender voluntarily for trial. Human Rights Watch documented Ojdanic's role in the Kosovo conflict in its 2001 report, "Under Orders: War Crimes in Kosovo."

Five other indictees have promised to surrender within the next two weeks, while Serbian authorities have issued arrest warrants for an additional seventeen men wanted by the Hague tribunal.

While welcoming these developments, Human Rights Watch cautioned that they could be undermined if the Yugoslav and Serb governments keep officials of the Hague tribunal from getting access to documents and evidence they need to pursue ongoing investigations and trials.

"Belgrade has made real progress on cooperating with the tribunal, and we welcome that," said Elizabeth Andersen, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia division. "But in the area of access to documents and witnesses, there's been essentially no cooperation at all."

Andersen noted that Slobodan Milosevic, currently on trial at the Hague tribunal, appears to have extensive access to government documents in preparing his defense. "Sometimes Milosevic seems to have better access to official documents than the prosecutors do," said Andersen.

Human Rights Watch also urged Kostunica and Djindjic to maintain the momentum on cooperation until all indictees present in the country are in custody in The Hague. Andersen cautioned against repeating the pattern set last year, when the arrest and transfer of Milosevic was followed by a lull in Yugoslav cooperation with the tribunal.

"They lost a real opportunity last year," Andersen said. "Hopefully there is now a recognition that international accountability for war crimes is an essential element of their efforts to put the Milosevic era behind them and move forward toward stabilization of the region and its reintegration in Europe."

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