With the notable exception of Russia, European leaders have welcomed ex-Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's transfer to the UN war crimes tribunal at The Hague as a giant step forward for justice.
Prague, 29 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Leaders across Europe joined the United States and international organizations today in hailing the extradition of Slobodan Milosevic.
Russia, however, called yesterday's transfer an "internal matter" and a "sell-out" for Western aid.
In Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair hailed the move as "a thoroughly good thing." Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said that he could not imagine Milosevic being acquitted of war crimes. He added that the trial would be fair, and expressed hopes that it would lead to the arrests of others indicted by the UN tribunal who are still at large.
French President Jacques Chirac said the Serbian government's move represented "great progress for the conscience of the world."
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder praised the handover as a "great success for international efforts for justice." He said the international community must now react by reinforcing its support for social and economic reconstruction in Yugoslavia.
European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana spoke of a "historic day" for justice. In a statement, Solana said yesterday's events would facilitate a future of "peace and prosperity" in Yugoslavia by helping it obtain the financial aid it desperately needs after a decade of war, sanctions, international isolation and economic ruin.
Solana was NATO secretary-general when the alliance launched a 78-day air war against Milosevic in March 1999.
Gunnar Weigand, spokesman for EU Commissioner for External Affairs Chris Patten, said today that the response of European Commission leaders was overwhelmingly positive.
"The president of the commission, Romano Prodi, congratulated the Yugoslav authorities on the way they have handled this, and he expressed his confidence in Serbian democracy, which was confirmed by this event. Commissioner Patten from London said this is a historic day for the people and for all those who believe in the rule of international law. He equally congratulated authorities in Belgrade and said this would provide the many victims of Balkan wars with a chance for justice."
Weigand added that the commission views Milosevic's transfer to The Hague as a message to all war criminals.
"[Commissioner Patten] also said that -- and I think this should be clearly noted -- to those who seek to evade international justice, let this serve as a warning. And to those who despair of progress in the Balkans, this gives hope. And I guess that many of you have doubted over the last couple of days that things are really changing in the Balkans."
Nicholas Whyte, an analyst at the Brussels-based European Institute for Policy Studies, told our correspondent he considered the transfer entirely legal, and that it showed Yugoslavia was ready to join Europe.
"This was never going to be a trouble-free and non-political event. However, it's absolutely clear that Yugoslavia's obligations under international law were to transfer Milosevic. Yugoslavia's obligations under treaties which Milosevic himself signed were to cooperate with the war crimes tribunal." Whyte calls the extradition the opening of a new chapter in the Balkans. He also says that others indicted for war crimes might soon be arrested.
"I think it's a turning point, not just for Yugoslavia but for the whole region. Now we actually have -- what was seen by many as the problem country in the region has now actually decided it will sign up to the norms that are being required of it by the international community. That's very significant indeed. It's significant also because we are much more likely to see the transfer of [indicted former Bosnian Serb leaders] Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic from Bosnia to The Hague."
But Russia's response to Milosevic's transfer was nowhere near as positive. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said the decision to hand over the former president should have been made without any outside pressures. This was an apparent reference to threats by the United States to boycott today's donors' conference in Brussels if Belgrade failed to turn Milosevic over to The Hague.
"We have always emphasized that a decision on handing over Milosevic to the international tribunal is an internal affair of Yugoslavia, and the appropriate decisions should be taken by competent bodies of this country [Yugoslavia], without any interference from outside."
Ivanov called the decision to transfer Milosevic unconstitutional and expressed solidarity with Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, who was not informed of the transfer until after Milosevic had already left Belgrade.
"One's attention is drawn to the words of Yugoslav President Kostunica that in this case, the handing over of Milosevic to the tribunal is a serious violation of constitutional principles." Duma speaker Gennady Seleznyov said Milosevic's extradition had taken place in violation of yesterday's ruling by Yugoslavia's Constitutional Court, which barred implementing a recent government decree on the transfer for at least a month. He said Yugoslav authorities had sold Milosevic for some $1 billion in aid they are seeking from the West at today's donors' conference.
"I think the Serb authorities acted too quickly. This all presents a threat to Yugoslavia. I am in solidarity with the president of Yugoslavia, Kostunica, that this should not have been done. It was done undemocratically and as part of a trade-off. For handing over Milosevic, the West promised $1 billion."
In Brussels today, EU leaders put actions behind their words of support with pledges close to $450 million in a support package of grants and loans to help rebuild Yugoslavia's war-battered economy. The European Commission said the money was in addition to pledges already made by the 15 EU member states at an earlier donors' conference.