The first senior international official to visit Yugoslavia during the current post-election crisis has urged President Slobodan Milosevic to accept a recount of the federal presidential election. UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the former Yugoslavia Jiri Dienstbier also tells RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele that the international community should throw out its indictment of Milosevic and let him go free in order to secure his peaceful departure from power.
Prague, 4 October 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The United Nations' special rapporteur for human rights in the former Yugoslavia, Jiri Dienstbier, says opposition to Milosevic's rule is "snowballing." But he warns that the outcome is not yet certain.
Dienstbier -- a former dissident activist who served as Czechoslovakia's first post-Communist foreign minister (1989-1992) -- returned from his latest trip to Serbia and Montenegro yesterday. In Prague today, he said that the atmosphere in Belgrade is reminiscent of the Czech capital in November 1989, when communist rule collapsed:
"There is enormous euphoria. They are celebrating their victory, but obviously this is linked with concerns with what will happen, how Milosevic will react."
Dienstbier says the Serbian opposition is convinced that the next two days, Thursday and Friday, will be decisive. He says that if the constitutional court cannot be persuaded by tomorrow to call for a recount of the September 24 presidential election, and demonstrations continue Friday when a pre-runoff campaign ban takes effect, Milosevic may accuse the opposition of violating the law and deploy the army and police in the streets.
The Yugoslav opposition is boycotting the runoff election, insisting its candidate, Vojislav Kostunica, won the first round outright.
But Dienstbier says it is far from clear whether Milosevic will be in a position to order force to be used against the public. He says an overwhelming number of soldiers and policemen voted for Kostunica in the first round.
Dienstbier met with Kostunica twice on his latest visit, and quotes the opposition leader as saying his priority is to restore relations with Montenegro and to ensure the return to Kosovo of all those -- mostly Serbs -- who fled, albeit initially in ethnically separate communities.
Kostunica argues adamantly that Sunday's (Oct 8) runoff is unnecessary because he won a clear majority of votes in the first round. But Dienstbier says the Serbian opposition is prepared to participate in a second round of voting if the results of the first round of the elections are first reviewed independently.
Dienstbier says the opposition non-governmental organization G17 has precise data from more than 98 percent of the over 10,000 Yugoslav polling stations, and that a recount would take only a few hours. He acknowledges that there are known cases of whole truckloads of ballots for Kostunica being taken to pulping mills for trashing. But he quotes G17 members as saying that, although the destruction of ballots is illegal, the actual ballots are not essential for a recount since the votes have already been tabulated by computer.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has offered to mediate in the dispute over holding a run-off. But Dienstbier is dubious about Putin's offer to find a way out of the crisis.
"I think the negotiations that are now being proposed are not about a second round of elections or the like. When Putin phones Washington, when he negotiates with the French, it is basically about enabling a transition [of power to take place]. A dictator does not leave peacefully if the only option he has is to go to prison for the rest of his life."
Dienstbier adds that he cannot imagine what Putin can do "other than offer Milosevic a dacha."
The chairman of the Russian State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, Dmitry Rogozin, said in Moscow today that Russia would not extradite Milosevic to the West to face war crimes charges if the Yugoslav leader were to enter Russian territory.
Dienstbier quotes Serbian opposition leaders as saying the UN's Hague-based tribunal's indictment of Milosevic last year on war crimes is the main obstacle to the opposition's ability to come to an agreement with Milosevic on his departure from power. He says a deal is necessary to avoid a violent confrontation and more deaths.
Dienstbier says: "We have to ask ourselves whether from a moral point of view the fate of a single dictator is more important than the fate of millions of people in the Balkans."
Nevertheless, Dienstbier says he shares the view that enabling Milosevic to avoid justice for his role in the widespread killings in Bosnia and Kosovo would mean that a future Serbian or Yugoslav state would suffer from the absence of a moral foundation.
Dienstbier describes Kostunica as a "most trustworthy negotiating partner" who, he says, is "consistent, has taken no part in any corruption or even in any business activities, nor was ever in the former League of Communists of Yugoslavia." He says Kostunica is "incredibly peaceful and open [and] quite reminiscent of Czech or Polish intellectuals who all of a sudden took on a political role [11 years ago]." Dienstbier also says Kostunica "never clowned around like some other representatives of the Serbian opposition, nor did he hop from party to party."
"Kostunica is above all a constitutional lawyer. And he is a person whose main interest is creating a state of law, which is the most important thing of all, regardless of his other political opinions. And I think this is the most essential thing in the Balkans."
But Dienstbier also notes that Kostunica advocated a "greater Serbia" in 1991 and 1992, when it became clear that the former Yugoslavia was finished. In Dienstbier's words: "Kostunica did not support the killings in Bosnia. But he felt that if there could be no Yugoslavia, there might as well be ethnically based states in the Balkans."