Prague, 1 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Serbian Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic is expressing concern about the broader political impact of a U.S. decision to cut off millions of dollars in aid to Serbia.
In an interview today with RFE/RL's South Slavic Service from Belgrade, Svilanovic said the loss of an estimated $26 million in aid could complicate key economic and political issues facing Belgrade.
"It is not just a matter of money. It is much more important how it will reflect on some other issues -- if we still have or do not have the support of Washington in negotiations with various international financial institutions," Svilanovic said. "Also, we are entering the phase in which we have to deal of the most important national issue -- this is Kosovo. It is irresponsible [for the Belgrade authorities] to start negotiations on Kosovo without having the support of Brussels and Washington."
The U.S. decision to cut off most new aid was announced yesterday. The office of Secretary of State Colin Powell said the suspension is a result of Serbia's failure to hand over suspects to the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague.
State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said Powell "cannot certify" that Serbia and Montenegro is cooperating with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. As a result, he said, new assistance for Serbia and Montenegro ended at midnight last night.
Serbia and Montenegro, the successor state to Yugoslavia, had been due to receive $100 million in American assistance during the current fiscal year. About $43 million has already been disbursed.
Ereli noted, however, that some categories of aid are exempt from the cutoff.
"Humanitarian assistance, assistance to promote democracy in municipalities, and assistance to Kosovo and Montenegro are exempted from the freeze," he said.
Ereli also urged the Serbians to do better in the future.
"We call on the authorities in Belgrade to cooperate fully with the tribunal by arresting and transferring their fugitive indictees, particularly [former Bosnian Serb General] Ratko Mladic, to face justice before the tribunal," he said.
Mladic is one of the most prominent war crimes suspects still at large. He is accused by the UN court of genocide over the deaths of thousands of Muslim men and boys in the Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica in 1995.
Mladic is among 16 suspects who are believed to spend most of their time in Serbia, but who have not been turned over to the tribunal.
In further comments to RFE/RL today, Foreign Minister Svilanovic said he believes the U.S. move on aid may have been influenced by the decision of Serbian lawmakers earlier this week to award salaries, legal fees, and other financial support to former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and other Serbian war crimes suspects already on trial in The Hague.
"It seems to me that what weighed heavily in the United States' decision to cut the aid was actually the adoption of the law for financial support of The Hague defendants and their families and because, for all politicians in the United States, it is an impossible task to explain to their public why they have to give financial support to a state that will use the money to finance The Hague defendants," he said.
Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica has made clear he considers the UN court to be anti-Serb and is refusing to cooperate with it.
And Defense Minister Boris Tadic expressed indifference to the U.S. move. He acknowledged before Powell's announcement that the cutoff of American funds would hurt his country. But he said it is time for Serbia and Montenegro to "take responsibility" for its own financial and political situation.
Another top war crimes indictee is former wartime Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic. Karadzic is thought to spend most of his time not in Serbia, but in Pale in the Serb part of Bosnia. He is also wanted on genocide and other charges.
Troops of the NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR) in Bosnia staged a raid in Pale early today designed to capture Karadzic.
SFOR soldiers arrived in the center of Pale and -- according to witnesses -- there was firing of automatic weapons and an explosion. A priest and his son at the local Serb Orthodox church were reportedly injured in the raid and were taken by helicopter to hospital.
Captain Dave Sullivan, a spokesman for NATO-led peacekeepers, said the raid failed to result in Karadzic's capture. Karadzic has evaded many such attempts.