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Balkan Report: February 6, 2001

6 February 2001, Volume 5, Number 10

'NOT A PRIORITY.' Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said on his recent visit to Washington that extraditing former President Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague is "not a priority" for his busy government. Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica has repeatedly used this phrase to describe his attitude towards extradition, while at the same time questioning the legitimacy of the tribunal.

Hague court chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte recently turned the tables on Kostunica, saying that he is "not a priority" for her -- after he used that phrase in reference to a possible meeting with her (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January 2001). In the end, he did meet with her. All she received, however, was a lecture, a scenario all too familiar to many foreigners with long experience in the region, as Ambassador Richard Holbrooke pointed out in his memoirs of the Dayton peace process.

At first glance, it seems that Belgrade's new leaders are like the proverbial man who was unable to walk and chew gum at the same time. Kostunica, Djindjic, and some others in top positions appear to suggest that they are too busy transforming Serbia to find the time to order the police to put one ex-dictator and a handful of his thugs on a plane bound for Holland.

Djindjic is meanwhile pressing forward with plans to try Milosevic in Serbia, lest voters see him as handing over a Serb to a Western-backed institution. But his own justice minister, Vladan Batic, as well as Ms. Del Ponte, have pointed out that the only place for Milosevic is in The Hague. It is there that he must account for his crimes against Albanians (and perhaps others) and not just for his crimes against Serbian law. The tribunal is a UN-sanctioned body, and Belgrade is under obligation to cooperate with it. Many observers argue that if Belgrade is allowed to write its own ticket and try Milosevic at home, then Croatia and Bosnia will most likely demand the same right, and the entire Hague process will come to a brutal and pathetic end.

Matters have not been helped by the recent statement by European Commission President Romano Prodi that Serbia will continue to enjoy EU aid regardless of whether it cooperates with The Hague (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 2001). Indeed, the international community as a whole has lost potentially valuable leverage over Belgrade by granting the new leaders early recognition before they showed that they were truly going to make a clean break with the past (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 January 2001).

Some observers have suggested that the international community carefully monitor the Belgrade leaders' progress in three key areas before extending further aid and support to them. The first is progress in cooperating with The Hague. At the bare minimum, if Serbia does not make cooperating with the tribunal a priority of sorts, then political, economic, and diplomatic backing for the Serbian leadership should not be a priority for those who take seriously the principles on which the Hague court is based.

The second area involves leaving its neighbors in peace and getting on with pressing needs at home. First and foremost, the Belgrade leadership should remove the Milosevic-era military and political irritants that are responsible for the current tensions in Presevo. It should also be careful not to further exacerbate those tensions (see below). In addition, Serbia should let the people who live in Kosova and Montenegro exercise their rights to self-determination and majority rule if they wish to do so (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January 2001). If and when they choose to make use of those rights, Belgrade should accept it and not seek to make difficulties for the Kosovars or Montenegrins with the international community.

The third area is the one that is perhaps most important for the lasting peace and stability of the Balkans. This involves what Croatian President Stipe Mesic calls the need for Serbia to experience a "catharsis." By this he means the need to examine and break with the narcissistic, self-pitying nationalism that fueled Milosevic's rise to power in the first place and eventually led to starting and losing four wars (see below, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 October and 1 December 2000).

Until that happens, the ideas that provided the political and ideological basis for the Milosevic regime will remain current, waiting for the right circumstances in which either Milosevic or yet another demagogue can exploit them. And then, willy-nilly, the international community may once again find that an aggressive, nationalistic Serbia has become the international community's priority. (Patrick Moore)

CROATIAN PRESIDENT SETS BENCHMARKS FOR SERBIA. President Stipe Mesic told "Der Spiegel" of 5 February that Serbia's peaceful transition towards democracy is not yet sustainable and may yet suffer setbacks. He recalled that "those who are for a European Serbia have toppled Milosevic -- as have those who just voted against him because he failed to achieve his war aim of a 'greater Serbia.' Between those groups a conflict can break out any time."

Mesic said he has "mixed feelings" about his Yugoslav counterpart, Vojislav Kostunica: "He wants to democratize Serbia as a state based on the rule of law and wants [to introduce] European standards. But when it comes to concrete steps, he gives [lame] excuses -- that NATO destroyed everything and that he needs more time, especially concerning the extradition of war criminals."

The Croatian president stressed: "I believe that [Kostunica] stands behind this [nationalist] policy. War criminals are still safe in Serbia." Mesic expressed the hope, however, that the trial of former Bosnian Serb leader Biljana Plavsic in The Hague will increase the evidence against and pressure on Milosevic.

Asked whether the lack of Serbian cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia has made it more difficult for Croatia's public to accept the extradition of Croatian suspects to The Hague, Mesic replied: "Of course, the Belgrade delaying tactics disturb us. But we will not become hostage to individual war criminals, and we will extradite those suspects whose extradition the tribunal demands."

Mesic also demanded that the international community set strict conditions: "The Serbs should get no more than six months for handing over their war criminals. Afterwards, there can only be one answer: Stop all financial assistance and reintroduce sanctions. The Serbs must finally recognize that they have not made their contribution to democracy just by overthrowing Milosevic. Belgrade's criminal expansionist policies must be publicly denounced -- before the International Criminal Tribunal."

Concerning Kosova and Montenegro, Mesic said that "Belgrade must...recognize that the Yugoslav republics and provinces -- which received the right to secede as constitutional elements of the federation in 1974 -- still have this right -- even if Serbia meanwhile has a new constitution." Mesic added that "Kosova must get its own government as soon as possible and then decide about its own fate."

He dismissed the notion that an independent Kosova could destabilize the region: "Why do we always [fear] the specter of a greater Albania? Why should there not be two Albanian states? Germany and Austria can exist next to each other -- why not Kosova and Albania?"

He expressed concern, however, that "Serbia still has the illusion that the possible independence of Montenegro or Kosova must be compensated by new territorial gains. The Serbs still seem to believe in a split-up of Bosnia."

Mesic made clear, however, that neither Serbian nor Croatian nationalists should get their own mini-states within Bosnia-Herzegovina: "This must not happen. Serbia as well as Croatia must finally stop promoting such ambitions." Concerning the problems in implementing the Dayton agreements, he called on the international community to renegotiate the peace agreement at a new conference: "The regions, inhabited by different peoples, must not function like independent states anymore. It could be that the entire region will have to be included in new negotiations." He did not elaborate.

But Mesic ruled out the possibility of merging existing internationally recognized states in a Balkan federation prior to their integration into the EU: "We are not against regional cooperation and open borders -- but only on a bilateral basis. We reject any association. We do not want to enter Europe in convoy. Then the slowest would set the pace. We want to reach that aim in form of a regatta -- Who is fastest, gets in fastest." (Fabian Schmidt)

WHAT IS BELGRADE'S GOAL IN PRESEVO? Serbian tanks continue to fire shells into ethnic Albanian villages in the "demilitarized" Ground Safety Zone on southwestern Serbia's frontier with Kosova, the "Guardian's" Jonathan Steele reported from the region on 2 February. He added that "it is hard to find any Albanian who will criticize" the guerrillas, noting that "people are calling for a 'third force' to protect civilians from the Serbs."

It is not clear whether the shells are trained on specific, allegedly guerrilla targets, or whether the firing is more random. Some observers have suggested that the Belgrade authorities are deliberately keeping up the tensions in the Presevo region in order to convince the international community that Serbia is the victim of "Albanian terrorism."

But for her part, Biserka Matic, who is the "senior Serb information official in the region," told Steele that the new government is determined not to alienate the ethnic Albanians the way that its predecessor did. She noted that it is crucial to integrate the Albanians into state structures and the police, pointing out that mass sackings of Albanians in Kosova more than a decade ago led to the formation of two parallel societies in the province. She stressed that the new "government is trying to turn a page and finally do something smart."

The London-based daily noted that the Yugoslav army is "literally a loose cannon" in the region, and that there are "serious differences" on Presevo between Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic and General Nebojsa Pavkovic, who heads the Yugoslav army's General Staff. The "Guardian" suggested that "the only tactics [the military] seem to know are to order tanks and heavy artillery to fire on villages."

But in several recent statements, it seemed that the civilian authorities have taken a tougher line on Presevo than the military. General Pavkovic said in Medvedja that diplomacy with the support of the international community must take the lead in ending the tensions, "Danas" reported on 29 January.

Ex-General and Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Momcilo Perisic, who deals with security affairs, warned the Belgrade authorities not to attempt any military solution in Presevo unless they have carefully thought about the possible consequences. The former head of the Yugoslav army General Staff pointed out that the use of force in the frontier zone would bring the security forces "into direct contact" with a compact ethnic Albanian civilian population as well as with KFOR troops across the border, "Danas" reported on 1 February 2001.

But responding to recent incidents in the region, in which a Serbian soldier died, Covic said that "everything has its limits and some things cannot and will not be allowed," Reuters reported on 28 January. He called for a "halt to the provocations." Yugoslav Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic said the previous day that the problem must be solved quickly "either by diplomatic means or by using the force of the police and the army," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He dismissed ethnic Albanian calls for demilitarization, saying "there's no need for that."

Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic issued a statement in Belgrade on 28 January, in which he called for an "urgent meeting" of the UN Security Council to make "an immediate and strong condemnation of terrorist attacks." He also demanded "punishment for the culprits." Belgrade wants a revision of the Kumanovo agreements that ended the 1999 Kosova conflict so that its forces can return to the zone. (The former regime of President Slobodan Milosevic also appealed frequently to the UN for changes in the Kumanovo agreements, usually to permit Serbian forces to return to Kosova.)

Speaking in Davos on 29 January, Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica again called for reducing the size of the five-kilometer-wide demilitarized zone. He added that Belgrade is stepping up its diplomatic activities in the face of a worsening security situation in the Presevo region.

In the end, Svilanovic got his UN statement, but it did not constitute the clear move toward revising the Kumanovo agreements that Djindjic said it did (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2001). In fact, NATO Secretary General Lord George Robertson said in Brussels on 30 January that Belgrade must do more to remove the sources of tensions in the Presevo region. "We will continue to take robust action to prevent [the guerrillas] from getting the provocation they seek... I hope that the Yugoslav and the Serbian authorities will start putting in place some of the confidence-building measures" that Belgrade recently promised. "A greater degree of participation of the ethnic Albanian majority population in southern Serbia in their own administration and indeed in their own local police" would help to defuse tensions, Reuters quoted Robertson as saying.

The plan he was referring to was one that Covic presented in Belgrade on 30 January, aimed at ending guerrilla activity in the zone. Covic envisions a peaceful end to the tensions in the area but did not rule out using the Yugoslav army or Serbian police to "carry out anti-terrorist action." Covic ruled out changing borders or introducing autonomy. He nonetheless called for "European standards" in human rights to be introduced and for the integration of the local ethnic Albanians into the Serbian "social system," as Ms. Matic suggested. The government also plans to affect an "economic, political, and social revitalization of the area." It is not clear whether the plan will meet basic Albanian demands for the thinning out of Serbian security forces and a greater political role for the Albanian parties.

In any event, developments in Belgrade's policies toward Kosova, Presevo, and its neighborhood in general should probably be seen in a broader context. The leadership's goals are to speed its reintegration into the international community, revise the Kumanovo agreements, and rid Serbia of the political burden of having been the one chiefly responsible for destroying former Yugoslavia and starting four wars. To that end, its leaders are likely to continue to portray Serbia as the victim of "Albanian terrorism," "Montenegrin separatism," and "NATO bombs and depleted uranium." (Patrick Moore)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "Obviously, there is concern within the United States Congress about the extent of cooperation between this government and the international tribunal at The Hague, and we look forward to constructive progress on that path, because we want very much to continue and expand American assistance to this country." -- U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman, in Belgrade, after meeting with Kostunica. Quoted by RFE/RL on 2 February.

"There is no exit date for the whole force either in Bosnia [or] Kosovo. Those will be long-term commitments." -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, in Washington on 4 February.

"[The Muslims] would live squeezed in a mini-state contemplating revenge. We would have created a Gaza strip in the middle of Europe." -- High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch in the 31 January "International Herald Tribune." He was replying to advocates of a three-way partition of Bosnia along ethnic lines.

"A multi-ethnic Bosnia is...not an illusion designed by ambitious do-gooders. It is the answer to the war" and ethnic cleansing.--Ibid.

"What we want is for the French forces to get out of Mitrovica. They have been here for 18 months. I will not stop protesting until they leave. I wish the British would take their place." -- Militant ethnic Albanian protester in Mitrovica. Quoted by London's "The Times" on 2 February.