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Milosevic Must Face All His Crimes

April 03, 2001

The arrest of Yugoslavia's former President Slobodan Milosevic was not without political risks, and some recognition of Belgrade's effort was appropriate. The U.S. State Department was reasonable in certifying Yugoslavia's cooperation with the U.N. war crimes tribunal, thus continuing U.S. aid to Belgrade--for now. However, putting Milosevic in a Serbian jail does not fulfill Belgrade's obligation to the international community. The next step is to hand him over to the war crimes court in The Hague in the Netherlands, along with more than a dozen other war crime indictees believed to be in Serbia. The pressure on Belgrade to comply should continue.

Milosevic was arrested Sunday on domestic charges of corruption, abuse of power and inciting violence. At The Hague tribunal, Milosevic would face far more serious charges of crimes against humanity--possibly of genocide as well--for his brutal campaign against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. President Bush, while praising Milosevic's arrest, rightly stated that it should lead to his transfer to The Hague.

Yugoslavia's democratically elected president, Vojislav Kostunica, is no friend of the war crimes court, created by the United Nations in 1993 to prosecute those suspected of atrocities during the violent breakup of the Yugoslav federation. A Serb nationalist, Kostunica believes that the tribunal is a tool of international conspiracy against the Serbs. But he also understands that if Yugoslavia wants to be re-integrated into the international community and obtain help in rebuilding its economy, he has to play by international rules and cooperate with the court.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's certification decision Monday means Yugoslavia will receive $50 million in aid this year and U.S. support for substantial loans from international lending institutions. He promised further assistance when Belgrade enacts a law allowing it to cooperate with the war crimes tribunal, hands over additional suspects and releases Albanian political prisoners.

But the conditions set by Washington and the European Union should go further and specifically require the surrender of Milosevic. No one expects Kostunica to change his mind overnight, but he should also not be led to believe that, by taking other small steps, he can avoid taking the most significant one in terms of Serbia's reconciliation with its recent past--delivering Milosevic to justice for crimes against humanity committed under his command.

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