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Yugoslavia: Transfers Of Alleged War Criminals To Begin

Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic says the first transfers of suspected Serbian war criminals to The Hague international tribunal can be expected today or tomorrow. The announcement came just hours after the Yugoslav federal government voted unanimously to cooperate with the UN tribunal. In Washington, meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell deferred a ruling on whether Yugoslavia should continue receiving aid.

Prague, 2 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Prime Minister Djindjic told reporters late last night that he still had no details of when the transfer of indicted war crimes suspects would begin. But he said he expected it to happen today or tomorrow. He noted that the Yugoslav federal government, rather than his government of Serbia, is responsible for transfers to The Hague.

In an interview with RFE/RL, Djindjic once again took a verbal swipe at his political nemesis, Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, who has been a staunch critic of the tribunal.

"Kostunica is a politician who avoids responsibility, and I think he has gotten away with it. He has to say clearly, without conditions, without 'ifs' -- 'I am for cooperation with the international court at The Hague under the existing conditions,' or else, 'I am against cooperation. The conditions are not favorable. There are no laws. The court at The Hague is a comedy, I don't have the stomach for it,'" Djindjic said.

Earlier in the day, Djindjic accused Kostunica of destabilizing Yugoslavia and described the president's refusal to cooperate with the tribunal as "cowardly, hypocritical, and irresponsible" in failing to carry out his duty of protecting the country's international standing.

In the past, Kostunica has denounced the tribunal as illegal, anti-Serb and a puppet of U.S. foreign policy. Yesterday, however, he told Serbian television he supports cooperation with the tribunal, "but with a clear law regulating such cooperation." Kostunica said it is now up to the federal parliament to hold an emergency session to adopt such a law.

"I am absolutely in favor of the cooperation being regulated, devoid of arbitrariness. The only way this can be achieved is for it to be ratified by parliament in correspondence with legal regulations," Kostunica said.

In Belgrade, the brother of the former Yugoslav Army chief of staff and former Defense Minister Dragoljub Ojdanic said he expects Serbian police to arrest the former commander and transfer him to The Hague. Today's edition of the daily "Danas" quotes Sreten Ojdanic as saying his brother is in Belgrade and does not want to voluntarily surrender to the tribunal.

Ojdanic was one of four senior officials indicted together with former President Slobodan Milosevic nearly three years ago.

The other three men indicted at the same time are Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, former security aide Nikola Sainovic, and former Serbian Interior Minister Vlajko Stojiljkovic. Also being sought in Serbia is the former commander of Bosnian Serb forces, General Ratko Mladic.

The Yugoslav federal government met last night in an emergency session and voted unanimously in favor of full cooperation with the tribunal.

Within hours after the Yugoslav vote, the U.S. State Department issued a statement praising Belgrade's efforts to comply with the qualification requirements for U.S. aid despite domestic political difficulties. But the statement also said Secretary of State Colin Powell has deferred a decision on whether Serbia has adequately demonstrated it deserves to continue receiving U.S. aid.

In the statement's words: "Although Yugoslavia made significant progress with respect to the certification criteria, [Secretary of State Powell] has determined that it would be premature to certify at this point." Certification automatically expired early yesterday pending an announcement by Powell. His spokesman, Philip Reeker, said the U.S. has reiterated its desire to authorities in Belgrade "to see further progress on certain issues" -- a reference to handing over suspected war criminals and granting tribunal prosecutors access to archives in Yugoslavia.

Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus spoke with reporters last night following the Yugoslav vote. He acknowledged that U.S. sanctions are inevitable, but said the government agreement to cooperate fully with The Hague tribunal is a step in the right direction.

"[The decision] means full political support, a serious step for the federal government. I think Montenegro [which is exempt from the financial sanctions] has the same stand. There's no point in pushing Yugoslavia up against a wall again with sanctions. We want to work normally with the world. It isn't just a matter of the U.S. We got the same message from the EU. For us it's important to be a part of the international community, with all the benefits and duties," Labus said.

But Labus warned the sanctions may have considerable impact.

"It would mean full isolation. Now we have low inflation. It means we wouldn't have any new investments, no more privatization, no more capital inflow, no more opening up the country to capital markets. It means delaying our membership in the World Trade Organization and delaying our agreement on stabilization and association with the EU. There will be an impact on jobs, on wages, on the market. I think we've been through this and we know what it means," Labus said.

An economist at the Belgrade Institute of Economic Sciences, Stojan Stamenkovic, said the U.S. sanctions could threaten a three-year "financial arrangement" that Yugoslavia has been working out with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Stamenkovic told reporters today, "Formally speaking, cutting U.S. aid isn't a sanction but has the effect of a sanction because it leads to Yugoslavia's financial isolation." He also warned that a possible delay in granting approval to the IMF deal on political grounds could have "unforeseen consequences."

The IMF arrangement is a pre-condition for writing off 51 percent of Yugoslavia's debt to the Paris Club of foreign government creditors. Foreign governments that have in the past loaned Yugoslavia money cannot write off their debts unless Belgrade's fiscal and economic plans have the IMF's stamp of approval.