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Yugoslavia: Donor Conference To Open In Brussels

The Yugoslav donors conference opens tomorrow in Brussels. Yugoslav authorities expect to receive some $1.2 billion in pledges for economic reconstruction in the country. But a last-minute decision to freeze the decree that allows the transfer of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic casts doubt on how much, if anything, the United States will be willing to pledge.

Prague, 28 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The stage is set for tomorrow's Yugoslav donors conference in Brussels.

In an 11th-hour announcement, the United States said yesterday that it would be attending the conference. The U.S. had refused to commit to attend until it saw definitive action on the transfer of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Phillip Reeker said the decision to attend the donors conference was made in response to recent moves by the Yugoslav authorities to move forward with Milosevic's transfer.

"U.S. participation has been made possible by the recent steps taken by the Yugoslav and Serbian governments to meet Belgrade's obligation to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and by Belgrade's commitment to transfer indicted war criminals to The Hague and fulfill all legal obligations to the tribunal."

Reeker did not say how large a contribution to Yugoslavia the U.S. administration is contemplating. He said no U.S. funds will be disbursed unless Yugoslavia fulfills its commitments.

The U.S. decision to attend may signal a positive outcome at tomorrow's conference, where Yugoslavia hopes to get the first installment of pledges in a four-year aid package totaling $4 billion.

Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus, who will head his country's delegation to the conference, said U.S. participation guarantees the full success of the conference. He called the decision a "boost for Yugoslavia's reformist and democratic forces."

The aid conference will be co-chaired by the World Bank and the European Commission. Christiaan Poortman, the World Bank's country director for Southeast Europe, says the government in Belgrade had gone a long way to establish credibility for its economic policies. In return, Poortman says, the country can expect to get close to the targeted amount of pledges.

"I'm pretty confident that we will get close, quite close. But the main thing is that we have a significant portion of it pledged, so that at least the authorities have some comfort -- of, first of all, the overall support of the international community. That's important, the message that goes out. And secondly, a significant proportion of these resources are actually being pledged."

Poortman says the future health of Yugoslavia's economy is dependent upon the success of tomorrow's conference. He says the Milosevic regime shattered the economy.

"The need is very considerable. The challenge that Yugoslavia faces is daunting. It would be daunting under any circumstance, given the fact that the country has to go through a transition from a centrally planned or a socialist economy to a market economy. But it has to get to that from a very disadvantageous position, coming out of 10 years of what has been generally perceived as having been macroeconomic and economic mismanagement, isolation, [and a] lack of funding to keep up maintenance and to make investments. So there are a number of real challenges that face Yugoslavia at this point in time. And last but not least, [there is] a very sizable debt burden, which hasn't been serviced over [the past] number of years."

But a decision today by Yugoslavia's Constitutional Court to suspend the government decree allowing for Milosevic's transfer has cast a shadow of doubt over tomorrow's conference.

The judges said the freeze -- which also applies to other war-crimes cases -- will last until they rule on its constitutionality. They said this will happen no earlier than 12 July.

The decision comes in response to Milosevic's lawyers filing an appeal with the Constitutional Court challenging the decree, issued on 23 June by the government. They are also using Serbia's court system to fight the extradition.

Yugoslav Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic said the Serbian government called an emergency meeting today to discuss the situation. He called the Constitutional Court's decision political, telling reporters that many of the judges were appointed by Milosevic.

Milosevic, now jailed in Belgrade, has been indicted by the UN tribunal for alleged war crimes committed by Yugoslav security forces in Kosovo.