Annan bows to Rwandan pressure to replace Del Ponte in court

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The Independent Online

Carla Del Ponte is expected to lose her job as chief prosecutor of the United Nations court investigating the genocide in Rwanda after a showdown with Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general.

Ms Del Ponte, who is also chief prosecutor of the court in The Hague trying Balkans war crimes, failed to persuade Mr Annan not to split the two posts. At a meeting on Monday, Ms Del Ponte argued that the Rwandan government was leading a politically-motivated campaign to have her replaced.

But after the discussions in New York, Mr Annan confirmed that he was proposing the appointment of a new prosecutor for the Rwandan tribunal to the Security Council, which will have the final say.

Mr Annan, who is already said to have sounded out senior diplomats, said: "Since their inception, one prosecutor has been managing both tribunals. There is a sense that, as we approach the end, and both tribunals are being asked to come up with a completion strategy to be able to finish their work and close down the courts, it may be necessary to have two prosecutors to tackle that essential part of their work."

Allies of the Swiss-born chief prosecutor believe Mr Annan is caving in to political pressure. Ms Del Ponte has accused the Tutsi-led government of refusing to co-operate with the court because of her determination to investigate alleged abuses by the predominantly Tutsi army.

Ms Del Ponte returned early to Europe after her talks in New York. She said: "No comment. Talk to the secretary general." The chief prosecutor, who has survived Mafia assassination attempts and brought the former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague for trial, has a four-year term of office that expires in September.

The assumption is that her contract in The Hague will be extended but that a new prosecutor will be appointed to the Rwandan tribunal, which operates in Arusha, Tanzania.

Ms Del Ponte does not dispute that progress over Rwandan genocide cases has been slow, although she blames court procedures. The court was set up to investigate the mass murder in 1994, which left more than 500,000 people dead.

The Rwanda court has 16 judges, a staff of more than 800, and its budget is nearly $100m (about £60m) a year. Set up in 1995, it has completed 15 cases and 61 are in progress. Fifty-five people are in detention, more than half of them awaiting trial.