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Yugoslavia: U.S. Says It Will Attend Donors' Conference

Washington, 28 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. said yesterday it will attend the donors' conference on Yugoslavia beginning Friday in Brussels.

State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said today in Washington that the administration of President George W. Bush has not yet decided how much financial aid it will commit to the Belgrade government. He said that figure will be determined during consultations with the U.S. Congress.

Reeker said Secretary of State Colin Powell decided last night that the U.S. will attend the meeting. The spokesman said the decision was based on Yugoslavia's commitment to extradite former President Slobodan Milosevic and others to face charges before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at The Hague.

But Reeker stressed that the U.S. will only pledge its financial support to Yugoslavia during the donors conference. Belgrade will not actually receive the aid until it follows through on the commitment to extradite Milosevic.

"Disbursement of the U.S. assistance pledged at the conference will be contingent upon Yugoslavia's further steps to cooperate fully with the tribunal." Yugoslavia hopes to raise $1.3 billion at the Brussels conference. Washington's participation in the meeting was seen as essential to its success.

Reeker said Washington is glad to offer financial assistance to Yugoslavia if it can help the former Socialist country move away from dictatorial leadership and toward free-market democracy.

"It's in the interests of the United States that Yugoslavia remain on the democratic path, that they be allowed to move forward now that they're rid of Milosevic and his regime; that they can move forward with economic reform, continue with their democratic reforms, and pursue a progressive, more prosperous society. It's in our interests, and so we will support that, and going to this donors' conference is an expression of that support."

Last September, Yugoslav voters elected Vojislav Kostunica to replace Milosevic. After several days of uncertainty, Kostunica finally took office. He initially refused to extradite Milosevic on the grounds that the Yugoslav Constitution forbids a citizen to be sent to a foreign country for trial. Instead, the new president said, Milosevic would be tried on corruption and other charges in Yugoslav courts. Yugoslav forces arrested Milosevic on 1 April. The former president has been imprisoned in Belgrade since then.

U.S. and other Western nations tried to persuade Kostunica that surrendering Milosevic and the other defendants to The Hague would not be unconstitutional because they would not be tried in a foreign court. But Kostunica, a constitutional scholar, held firm.

Political and economic pressure kept mounting on Belgrade to surrender Milosevic. At one point an effort was made to pass a law repealing the ban on extradition, but that failed. Finally, on 24 June, the Yugoslav cabinet formally issued a decree allowing for the extradition of Milosevic and other Yugoslavs whom the tribunal has charged with war crimes.

Milosevic's lawyers have challenged the legality of the decree that would allow extradition. A Yugoslav constitutional court will rule on that motion tomorrow -- on the eve of the donors conference.