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Yugoslavia: Belgrade Took Positive First Step

  • Jolyon Naegele

Laura Silber is a respected analyst of Yugoslav affairs. Former Belgrade correspondent of the "Financial Times" newspaper and co-author of "Yugoslavia: The Death of a Nation," she is now senior policy adviser to the New York-based Open Society Institute. In a telephone interview with RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele, Silber gives her views of yesterday's arrest and detention in a Belgrade prison of former President Slobodan Milosevic.

Prague, 2 April 2001 (RFE/R) -- Laura Silber first spoke about the manner of Slobodan Milosevic's arrest, which was unsuccessfully tried on 31 March before another attempt succeeded yesterday (1 April). She was asked what this said about the capabilities of the Serbian police, the relations between the police and the army, and the relations between the republic and federal organs in general. Silber responded:

"Well, it obviously reveals that there is a great amount of tension and that the balance of power has yet to be defined. However, in the end, we did see that they were able to reach an accord and to decide how to deal with this. But there was obviously a lot of behind-the-scenes negotiation and struggle -- not with Milosevic and his party but rather between the Yugoslav and the Serbian authorities and the police and the army. The army until the last minute seems to have really stood by Milosevic and have been very reluctant to take any action against him."

Serbian police did not detain Milosevic's wife, Mira Markovic, who heads the Party of the Yugoslav Left, on the grounds that they were not authorized to do so. Markovic has been rumored to be behind a variety of violent acts, including the attempted assassination of former Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov in 1995. Asked whether Markovic is innocent or whether the authorities lack sufficient evidence to charge her, Silber said:

"Well, I think, clearly there will be some sort of charges against her in the end. I think perhaps either they don't have enough evidence accumulated or, what is more likely, they decided to deal with one person at a time. But I think we haven't seen the end of the charges against the Milosevic family."

Silber was then asked to what extent the new authorities in Belgrade are fulfilling their international obligations by detaining Milosevic:

"Well, I think, as we know, the detention of Slobodan Milosevic was not a precondition. What [is] the precondition for Belgrade, to fulfill its international obligations, is compliance with the international criminal tribunal for -- in former Yugoslavia. So that Milosevic, or the detention and ultimate surrender of Milosevic, is just one condition that Belgrade must fulfill in order to meet its international obligations. But I think what [happened] is a very good step and that most likely the outside world will allow Belgrade some time, possibly even for a domestic trial first before there is pressure to hand over Mr. Milosevic to The Hague [international war crimes tribunal]."

At a hearing after his detention yesterday, Milosevic rejected the Belgrade prosecutor's charges of abuse of office and financial impropriety. Our correspondent asked Silber what -- in view of Milosevic's defiant attitude and refusal until now to accept responsibility for his actions -- can we expect to learn from Milosevic when he finally goes on trial? She answered:

"I think it really remains unclear how he will react. I think that for the time being Milosevic really tried to the very last minute. He was hoping that enough people would rally to prevent his detention. He played his cards wrong. I think now it's impossible to really know what we can expect from Mr. Milosevic at the tribunal. So far, he hasn't been willing to divulge any information. But perhaps when he sees his future in a jail somewhere, perhaps he might be willing to be cooperative. Perhaps he may try to bring down others, give evidence against others he feels might be able to share the blame with him. So I think it is difficult to predict what kind of testimony he will ultimately give when really sitting in the dock."

Silber expects Belgrade will eventually -- but not immediately -- extradite the former president to The Hague.

"I think it will take Belgrade some time to surrender Mr. Milosevic to The Hague. I also think it is difficult for their (that is, Belgrade's) position: while [Serbian] public opinion is certainly clamoring for Milosevic to stand trial, so far public opinion is not in favor of sending Mr. Milosevic to The Hague. And while obviously Belgrade cannot be a slave to public opinion, they have to lead the agenda. I think there is an understanding that they probably won't in the very short term surrender Mr. Milosevic to The Hague. But I think, ultimately, Belgrade very well understands that they must meet their international obligations, one of which includes surrendering all indicted war criminals to The Hague."

The Hague tribunal has indicted for war crimes numerous other former political and military leaders who are still at large in Serbia and in the Bosnian Serb entity, Republika Srpska. Silber was asked what Milosevic's detention suggests for those such as former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic.

"I think it means that they had better be careful. And I think that obviously, taking Mr. Milosevic, who was the symbol of the violent destruction of Yugoslavia -- I think it is very powerful and I am very sure that those indicted war criminals right now are thinking, 'am I next?'"