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Yugoslavia: Kostunica Says Milosevic's Transfer Illegal

Belgrade, 28 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica says the Serbian government decision to send former leader Slobodan Milosevic to the UN war crimes tribunal was illegal and unconstitutional. Kostunica said the transfer of Milosevic to The Hague court could be interpreted as seriously jeopardizing Yugoslavia's constitutional order.

Officials at the tribunal confirmed that Milosevic arrived at a UN detention center outside of The Hague in the early morning hours of 29 June.

Nemanja Kolesar, a spokesman for Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, said earlier that Milosevic was "handed over" to The Hague authorities in Belgrade. Earlier in the day, the Yugoslav Constitutional Court had declared the decree unconstitutional and ordered it frozen.

On the streets of Belgrade, a few thousand supporters of Milosevic rallied against his handover. Officials of Milosevic's Socialist Party and the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party also described Milosevic's handover as illegal and called Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic a traitor.

Milosevic was indicted by the tribunal in The Hague in May 1999, charged with crimes against humanity for atrocities committed against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. He is believed to have been driven by UN officials from Belgrade to Bosnia-Herzegovina, where he was put on a flight to the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, the chief prosecutor of the UN war crimes tribunal, Carla Del Ponte, has welcomed the transfer of Milosevic as an "important milestone for international criminal justice."

Del Ponte, however, said Milosevic's extradition marks only the beginning of a lengthy legal process, and that much work still needs to be done to bring Milosevic's case to justice.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Milosevic's handover by the Serbian government marks a "victory for accountability over impunity."

The handover has also been welcomed by the United States, France, Britain, and other European governments.

Croatian President Stipe Mesic voiced satisfaction over the handover, saying Milosevic was "the main culprit" responsible for the suffering and wars of the Balkans in the 1990s.

A Russian government spokesman was quoted as saying Milosevic's extradition was an "internal matter" for Yugoslavia.