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Serbia: Indicted Former President Arrives At The Hague

  • Jolyon Naegele

Prague, 20 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Former Serbian President Milan Milutinovic flew from Belgrade today aboard a government jet to the Netherlands where he handed himself over to the UN's International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague.

Also aboard was Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic, who deplaned in Geneva after which the executive jet proceeded with Milutinovic on board to the Netherlands.

A statement issued by Yugoslavia's Foreign Ministry said: "Having departed to The Hague by his own free will, Mr. Milutinovic has fulfilled his duty as stipulated by the tribunal's statute and the Yugoslav law on cooperation with the international war crimes court." The statement says Milutinovic "has set an example to all other suspects."

Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, in recent remarks to reporters (16 January), said Milutinovic will remain free at the discretion of the tribunal.

"Mr. Milutinovic is going to The Hague voluntarily. He got a guarantee from the government [in Belgrade] that he can remain free as long as the court considers it suitable."

Djindjic noted that there should be no significant delays in starting the trial.

"What I wanted from the prosecution is that his appearance [before the tribunal] be dealt with in due time without much delay so that he will have the right to defend himself while being free. They agreed that as long as he held the function [of President of Serbia] it was not possible for him to go to The Hague. Everything else is an issue between The Hague [tribunal] and Mr. Milutinovic."

Authorities in Belgrade have given the tribunal guarantees that Milutinovic will attend his trial and cooperate fully. They are reported to have persuaded Milutinovic to go voluntarily so as to increase his chances of being released from custody pending trial.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Belgrade bureau, Yugoslav Prime Minister Dragisa Pesic explained: "Both the [Serbian] republic and [Yugoslav] federal governments are specified in the law on procedures and support the guarantees to Mr. Milutinovic of a definite or to be defined procedure enabling him to defend himself while remaining free."

Tribunal officials today refused to comment on the technicalities of any arrangement between the tribunal and Milutinovic.

Milutinovic, who is reported to suffer serious health problems and has undergone heart bypass surgery, was president of Serbia until 29 December, the fifth anniversary of his inauguration. Once out of office, he no longer had immunity from prosecution.

Officials in Belgrade at the time said there would be no resolution of Milutinovic's transfer until after the Orthodox New Year a week ago.

Milutinovic was the last top aide to Slobodan Milosevic to hold a senior office in Serbia and the last of the four aides indicted with Milosevic to go to The Hague. Two others have already surrendered and one committed suicide.

Milutinovic has maintained an extremely low profile since Milosevic's ouster in October 2000.

The May 1999 indictment -- which was subsequently amended -- says Milutinovic is "criminally responsible for the acts of his subordinates," including members of the security forces, for terror, violence, and brutality as well as deportation, murder, and persecution of the Kosovo Albanian civilian population and destruction of their property.

The 60 year-old former diplomat, ex-foreign minister (1995-1997), and president was a member of the Supreme Defense Council. He is alleged to have participated in decisions regarding the use of the Yugoslav Army and Serbian police.

Milutinovic denies any responsibility for war crimes, insisting in a recent interview that he had no power over the Yugoslav Army and Serbian police during their operations in Kosovo in 1998-99.