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Yugoslavia: U.S. Praises Simic's Surrender, Says More Steps Needed For Aid

Yesterday's surrender of a former Bosnian Serb mayor to the UN's Yugoslav war crimes tribunal at The Hague has raised the prospect of future U.S. aid disbursements to Belgrade. But the U.S. State Department says additional steps are needed before assistance will be provided.

Prague, 13 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. State Department says the voluntary surrender of a former Bosnian Serb mayor to the international war crimes tribunal at The Hague could help Yugoslavia avoid a threatened cut in aid from Washington.

But U.S. officials say the surrender alone probably will not be enough to secure $100 million in aid earmarked for Yugoslavia. Reports say Washington is calling for additional measures, including the arrest of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic by the end of the month.

Belgrade is coming under increased international pressure to cooperate more actively with The Hague-based war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

The U.S. Congress has called on President George W. Bush to certify that cooperation by the end of this month. Without Bush's certification, U.S. aid disbursements will be blocked.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says Bush has not yet decided whether to certify economic support for Yugoslavia. But Boucher says the U.S. views yesterday's surrender of indicted war crimes suspect Blagoje Simic as a positive step.

"At this point we have not made any particular decisions on certification. We've talked to the authorities in Belgrade about the type of steps that could contribute to a positive certification decision. Certainly, turning over indictees is one of the steps. But I would not say that it's conditioned upon any particular step. In making this decision, we will look at all aspects of their cooperation with the [Hague] tribunal and the other issues that are specified by Congress -- including respect for the Dayton agreement and promoting democracy, human rights, and the rule of law."

Washington's demands for cooperation with The Hague tribunal reportedly have been presented directly to Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.

The New York Times today, without citing its sources, says the first item on that list is to arrest Milosevic and transfer him to a prison. The report says another key demand is for Belgrade to assist in the transfer of at least one indicted war crimes suspect to The Hague tribunal by the end of this month. There has been no official confirmation of the details contained in the New York Times report.

Some Belgrade authorities say they hope Simic's surrender will satisfy the latter demand. Although Simic's surrender was voluntary, the New York Times says Yugoslav officials close to Kostunica have promised to pressure other indictees into surrendering.

The Hague tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, has welcomed Simic's surrender as a positive sign of cooperation from Belgrade. But Del Ponte says she also expects further action by Yugoslav authorities -- including the arrest of Milosevic.

"On the issue of cooperation by Yugoslavia, Simic has voluntarily surrendered. The fact that his surrender was carried out with the knowledge and approval of the authorities of the Republic of Serbia is the first encouraging signal. But I still expect positive action to be taken by the federal authorities of Yugoslavia -- in particular the pro-active (active) arrest and transfer of indictees."

Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic says that neither he nor his ministry mediated in the Simic affair. But Batic has been hinting during the last few days that some indictees would surrender soon.

Simic said yesterday that he is innocent and is giving himself up in the hope of alleviating international criticism against Yugoslavia for harboring indicted war crimes suspects.

Simic is a Yugoslav citizen who has lived in Belgrade for the last four years. He was the mayor of Bosanski Samac in April 1992 when the Bosnian town was overrun by Serbian forces. He remained at that post until the end of the war three years later.

Out of the 34,000 residents in the town when the Bosnian war began, about half were Croats or Muslims. By 1995, there were only 300 non-Serbs left in Bosanski Samac.

The Hague tribunal says most non-Serbs were thrown into Serb-run detention camps where many were murdered or tortured.

Simic also could be tried in connection with crimes carried out by Stevan Todorovic, the former police chief in the town. Todorovic is awaiting sentencing after agreeing to a plea bargain in December. He has pleaded guilty to a single count of persecution as a crime against humanity.

Three others also have been indicted for the events in Bosnaski Samac. Their trial is expected to begin in October.