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Yugoslavia: Deadline Passes For Cooperation With Hague Tribunal

  • Jolyon Naegele

A U.S. deadline passed this morning for Yugoslavia to demonstrate cooperation with the Hague tribunal by transferring indicted war criminals for trial. The Serbian Justice Ministry issued 11th-hour arrest warrants for aides of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, but the U.S. is still likely to freeze over $40 million in aid to express its dissatisfaction with the lack of local cooperation in The Hague process. RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports that Yugoslav and Serbian leaders are now trading accusations over who is responsible for the delay in the badly needed aid.

Prague, 1 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic in a television address last night said his country is "one step away from serious isolation."

His remarks came as the deadline neared for Yugoslavia to demonstrate its willingness to cooperate with The Hague international war crimes tribunal. The deadline, which expired Sunday night, made the delivery of some $40 million in U.S. aid contingent on signals from the Yugoslav and Serbian governments that they will help secure the transfer to The Hague of some 15 indictees currently believed to be at-large in Serbia. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is due to decide this week whether the decision on the economic sanctions will be final.

Belgrade has demonstrated great reluctance in arresting and turning over indictees. The Hague secured the transfer last year of its most-wanted defendant, former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, only after the U.S. leveled a similar ultimatum on aid money.

With the clock ticking toward the U.S. deadline, the Serbian Justice Ministry issued arrest warrants on 31 March for four Milosevic aides who were indicted together with their former boss in May 1999 for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Kosovo. The Justice Ministry says it expects the police to follow through and secure the arrests.

The four include Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, whose term in office expires at the end of this year; former security adviser Nikola Sainovic; former Deputy Prime Minister Dragoljub Ojdanic, and former Interior Minister Vlajko Stojiljkovic.

Djindjic, in his television address last night, blamed the failure to cooperate with The Hague process on the Yugoslav federal government. He said: "cooperation with international organizations and our country's international position are under the jurisdiction of federal organs and the Yugoslav president, Vojislav Kostunica. Not only is the president of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia avoiding his share of the responsibility for cooperation with The Hague court, but he has also been conducting an active campaign against it for a year and a half, all in the belief that the [Serbian] republic government will do the dirty work while he and his party will score patriotic points at someone else's expense."

In Djindjic's view, "the country needs to say clearly where it stands on The Hague issue" and "not dump the whole burden on the Serbian police."

Taking another swipe at Kostunica, the pro-reform, pro-Western Djindjic said, "It is worrying that someone is ready to risk the destiny and future of 10 million citizens for extra rights for several people who destroyed this country" -- a reference to the four indictees.

Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic said last night the federal government will meet today to discuss the economic sanctions and will consult with Kostunica before deciding what to do.

Batic says the failure of the leadership to resolve the issue of cooperation with The Hague tribunal means Serbia is facing its biggest crisis since the ousting of former President Slobodan Milosevic nearly 18 months ago.

Batic says should the U.S. administration proceed with the sanctions, it will, "turn the clock of history back to the poverty and isolation experienced during the Milosevic era." The sanctions, if approved, are expected to be imposed on 8 April.

Batic expressed exasperation with what he described as the futility of dealing with Kostunica: "The republic government builds, and then others, including the Yugoslav president, destroy it overnight with empty rhetoric and empty talk." He added: "The country can no longer sit back and listen to Kostunica's false talk of patriotism. [We] demand he clearly spell out whether Yugoslavia will cooperate with The Hague tribunal or endure U.S. sanctions."

But today, the deputy chairman of Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia, Dragan Marsicanin, shifted full responsibility for arresting and transferring any Hague indictees onto Djindjic and his government.

For his part, Kostunica -- a constitutional lawyer who describes himself as a moderate nationalist -- said in a statement yesterday that while he recognizes Belgrade's international obligation to cooperate with The Hague tribunal, such cooperation "has to take place in a legal and civilized way." Kostunica rejected allegations that he has been impeding cooperation with The Hague and has jeopardized domestic reforms. He reiterated his call for passing a law on cooperation with the tribunal "so as to preserve the dignity of our country and of the accused -- for the sake of truth, not just to gain an uncertain quantity of dollars."

Similarly, Kostunica said in an interview published today in the Banja Luka-based Bosnian-Serb weekly "Reporter" that cooperation with The Hague tribunal is unavoidable. But he added that the unregulated manner of cooperation to date is contributing to the destabilization of the country.

Following talks in Washington on 27 March with Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic, U.S. Secretary of State Powell told reporters he was pleased the Serbian government had transferred 146 Kosovar Albanian prisoners back to Kosovo, where most have since been released. He also welcomed the news that the Serbian government had passed a decree intended to make cooperation with the tribunal easier and more palatable for Serbian authorities.

"The government of Serbia is quite aware of those items in which we are interested with respect to access to archives and other indictees. And we have had a good cooperative relationship over the last 14 months on these issues and so I hope that relationship will continue."

U.S. financial aid for Yugoslavia was automatically suspended once the midnight deadline had passed. Powell said he would make his judgment about the certification over the weekend but has several more days before making it official. In the meantime, Belgrade is likely to grant tribunal officials access to archives and may still deliver several indicted suspects.

One of Powell's spokesmen, Frederick Jones, said last night Powell had not yet made a decision concerning certification. Jones reiterated that the U.S. "has repeatedly made clear that Yugoslavia must cooperate with the international criminal tribunal, take steps to support the [1995] Dayton peace accords; and take steps to implement policies respecting minority rights and rule of law."

In an interview with RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service, Belgrade political scientist Vojin Dimitrijevic says if the country were to accept Kostunica's advice on first establishing a legal framework for cooperation with the tribunal, the result would be more than just a years-long delay in the transfers of indicted suspects.

"By us saying, 'Wait a bit, we'll cooperate in some other way,' [the U.S. will] say, 'We've already been waiting a long time...' I'm afraid the whole matter is at risk or could be postponed for a really long time."

Dimitrijevic noted that ongoing cooperation with The Hague tribunal is not solely a U.S. condition. Without such cooperation, he says, Serbia will also lose its chance of being a part of the European integration process.

Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic said last week that regardless of whether Belgrade were to meet the deadline for compliance, his government is strongly committed to continuing its cooperation with the tribunal.