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Yugoslavia: Belgrade Continues To Resist Cooperation with Hague Tribunal

Yugoslav Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic says Yugoslavia will not hand over secret state files to officials of the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague. Zivkovic told journalists at the weekend that the country will allow UN tribunal officials "access to some state documents, but not all." His comments came in response to a request by the UN tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte. Del Ponte says true cooperation between Belgrade and The Hague will start only after Belgrade allows the tribunal full access to the archives.

Prague, 29 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- In a weekend interview with Belgrade's B-92 radio, Yugoslav Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic said the contents of Yugoslavia's secret archives cannot be handed over in full to investigators at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

He said cooperation with the tribunal will be determined on a "case-by-case" basis after review by the Interior Ministry.

The Hague, which has been demanding access to documents in Yugoslav state archives to aid in its ongoing investigations into war crimes, responded immediately to Zivkovic's comments.

In an interview today with RFE/RL, Jean-Jacques Joris, a diplomatic adviser to the tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, said Zivkovic's statements do not change the tribunal's objectives: "We have taken notice of that statement, of course. But it will not change our objectives. Our objective is to complete our investigation thoroughly and completely, and to do it we must have access to archives, documents, and witnesses."

Joris said there may be some miscommunication between The Hague and Yugoslav officials. Joris says the tribunal is interested only in very specific documents that relate to its war crimes investigations. He said there should be no overlap between the "targeted access" to those documents and Yugoslav defense secrets, for example.

Joris says Zivkovic's recent statements are simply part of Belgrade's overall resistance to cooperation with The Hague. He said the recent adoption by Belgrade of a law allowing the extradition of war crimes suspects to The Hague and the subsequent surrender of at least one war crimes suspect are only superficial responses to the real cooperation the tribunal is demanding.

"There are positive signals in Belgrade, but as far as concrete results are concerned, we have not seen anything. We have not yet received the documents we've been asking for for the past month, if not year and a half. We have not seen the authorities take concrete, active action to arrest, for instance, those people who have not announced that they would surrender."

James Lyon is the Serbia project director for the International Crisis Group, a private international advisory body based in Brussels. Lyon has a different take on Zivkovic's comments. He says the federal Interior Ministry actually controls very little in terms of useful archival material. Most of the relevant information, Lyon says, belongs to the Yugoslav army and the Serbian Interior Ministry.

"[Zivkovic's] position is, as you can tell by reading between the lines of the statement is, 'We're still arguing among ourselves.' This is very significant because the federal Interior Ministry doesn't have anywhere near the scope, shall we say, of potentially incriminating documents that the Serbian Interior Ministry and the army have. If the federal Interior Ministry has a significant amount of documents that they're hesitant to turn over, you can only imagine what this means for the other two organizations."

So far, six war crimes suspects have said they would surrender to The Hague tribunal rather than face arrest by Yugoslav authorities. Only one suspect, Colonel General Dragoljub Ojdanic, has actually turned himself in. At least 18 war crimes suspects wanted by the tribunal are still at large.

Lyon says Ojdanic's transfer to The Hague does not reflect a new determination by Yugoslavia to cooperate with the tribunal: "Those people who have thus far voluntarily stated they will turn themselves in are not viewed by the Serbian public as heroes or as defenders of Serbdom. Rather they view them as being part of the criminal element. So Ojdanic is gone. Well, we still have a lot of other bodies that should be getting on airplanes and going to The Hague, but we're waiting to see if they're leaving or not."

Lyon says what he calls the "criminal element" is the real obstacle to cooperation with The Hague. He says that while a new government is in power in Belgrade, many of the same people who worked with former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic remain in office. These people, Lyon says, will continue to resist cooperation with The Hague because they recognize that they themselves could end up on indictment lists.

"Serbia today is overrun with criminal elements. Milosevic criminalized the society. He criminalized the government. The government began to operate as a Mafia family. The police especially were the main Mafia chieftains, if you would. Since DOS [Democratic Opposition of Serbia] has come to power, since 5 October 2000, almost none of that has changed. Almost none of the people involved in these criminal activities has been removed from power."

Cooperation with The Hague, Lyon says, is likely to be a long-term process, stretching over several years. He says such cooperation won't happen until society itself changes.

"And how do you change a society when the key state and political organs have been corrupted from head to toe?" Lyon asks.