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Yugoslavia: Authorities Tightening Control Of Milosevic

  • Ron Synovitz

The new leadership in Belgrade is continuing to resist demands for the extradition of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to the UN war crimes tribunal at The Hague. But Milosevic's position appears to be growing more precarious as his allies are removed from positions of power by new Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic's government.

Prague, 1 February 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Ousted Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's position has become more precarious after the first week in office of newly-elected Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.

Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic confirmed today that he has placed Milosevic under 24-hour police surveillance at the presidential compound in an exclusive Belgrade neighborhood.

RFE/RL has also learned that the number of Milosevic's loyal body guards at the residence has been reduced.

But both the Yugoslav and Serbian governments deny reports that Milosevic is under formal house arrest. Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica said yesterday Milosevic is under a kind of "self-imposed" arrest in Belgrade.

While Kostunica's remarks signal that Milosevic's options are shrinking, the Yugoslav president insists Milosevic will not be extradited to the UN tribunal at The Hague for trial on charges of war crimes.

But Serbian Justice Minister Zoran Batic told RFE/RL today that he thinks Milosevic eventually will end up in front of the UN tribunal -- in spite of Kostunica's opposition.

Batic says the governing coalition in Belgrade has agreed upon a group of experts to draft legislation that would clear the way for Milosevic to be transferred to The Hague. Batic said he expects the legal changes to be complete in two months.

Earlier this week Batic confirmed that strong divisions are emerging within the 18-party Democratic Opposition of Serbia over what to do with Milosevic.

Batic says the question is whether Milosevic will go voluntarily in the near future or if authorities in Belgrade hand him over at a later date. Both Batic and Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus have urged Milosevic to go voluntarily.

Milosevic's allies have warned of a civil war if the ousted leader is sent to The Hague.

Meanwhile, Milosevic's allies continue to be removed from power by Djindjic's government. Yesterday, two Milosevic loyalists were fired from senior police posts. They were Vlastimir Djordjevic and Obrad Stevanovic, both police generals and deputy police ministers who had been in charge of security under Milosevic.

Milosevic's secret police chief, Rade Markovic, was removed from power last week. But Milosevic appointees still control senior positions within the Yugoslav army's general staff.

The chief UN war crimes prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, is not as optimistic as Batic about the transfer of Milosevic and others indicted war crimes suspects in Belgrade.

During her visit to Belgrade last week, Del Ponte says she was told repeatedly that the UN tribunal has no role in Yugoslavia. Del Ponte says she was told by the governing coalition that if Milosevic is ever to be tried, it will not be at The Hague -- but only in Belgrade.

Del Ponte already has rejected the idea of any war crimes trial in Belgrade against Milosevic. Her chief spokeswoman, Florence Hartmann, recently told RFE/RL that the tribunal's statutes give it primary jurisdiction in all war crimes cases linked to the wars in the former Yugoslavia. Hartmann said:

"It would be illegal. [The UN Tribunal has] the primacy. We will not recognize [any war crimes trial in Belgrade against Milosevic because such a] trial does not mean anything."

Kostunica acknowledged yesterday he feels growing international pressure to hand Milosevic over to The Hague. Yet Kostunica insists his government is already cooperating fully. Earlier this week, the Yugoslav president promised "step by step" cooperation with the tribunal. But he has refused to comment on whether he might eventual send Milosevic to the UN court.

(Nenad Pejic and Rade Rodovanovic of RFE/RL's South Slavic Service contributed to this report.)