YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Milosevic Says Diverted Funds Financed Ethnic Serb Armies


BELGRADE, Yugoslavia — As the legal noose tightened around him, former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic declared from jail Monday that he didn't steal state funds but secretly used them to finance ethnic Serbian armies in Bosnia and Croatia.

Milosevic's comments, made in an appeal against being imprisoned while authorities investigate him on corruption charges, came as the Serbian Interior Ministry broadened its case by accusing him of inciting his bodyguards to fire at police who were trying to arrest him early Saturday.

Authorities also filed charges Monday against the former president's 35-year-old daughter, Marija, who is accused of firing shots as her father was being taken away from the family's residential compound early Sunday.

Milosevic's defense against the theft charges was unlikely to help him fend off charges from the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague. The court said Monday that it was preparing indictments against Milosevic for crimes allegedly committed during the wars in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina--in addition to charges stemming from alleged atrocities against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

The United States on Monday cleared the way for $50 million in aid to Yugoslavia but dampened hopes for an international donors conference to raise far more aid--unless Belgrade cooperates further with the international tribunal.

The State Department did not specifically link the donors conference to Milosevic's fate. But it left little doubt that his hand-over to the Hague court would be the key to additional funds to rebuild the war-ravaged country. Although no date had been set, the conference is widely expected to be held in early summer.

More indictments against Milosevic will be ready "in a few weeks or months" for crimes allegedly committed in the early 1990s in Bosnia and Croatia, tribunal spokeswoman Florence Hartmann said Monday. Genocide was among the charges being investigated, she said. After years of hostile resistance, authorities in Croatia and Bosnia are now cooperating with the investigations, she said.

Yugoslav investigators are trying to establish a link between Milosevic and a series of killings, Predrag Simic, foreign policy advisor to President Vojislav Kostunica, said Monday. These include the 1999 deaths of four people in the attempted killing of opposition leader Vuk Draskovic, the disappearance last year of former Serbian President Ivan Stambolic and the slaying of journalist Slavko Curuvija, Simic said. Serbia is the dominant republic of Yugoslavia.

Former secret police chief Rade Markovic, who has been arrested in the deaths of the Draskovic aides, "was subordinate to Mr. Milosevic," Simic said. "It's under investigation to find out if there was a direct connection.

"Milosevic was not alone. He was a member of a repressive, dictatorial system that was responsible for many things. . . . At this moment, it's very important that our police seize all responsible," he added. If that happens, the chances of having witnesses testify against Milosevic about more serious crimes than corruption and abuse of power also will be strengthened, Simic said.

Sreten Lukic, head of the Interior Ministry's Public Security Department, told a news conference that Sinisa Vucinic, who led Milosevic's personal security detail in his Belgrade villa during the weekend standoff, is under investigation on suspicion of preparing an "armed rebellion." Vucinic also was arrested Sunday morning.

Milosevic's lawyer, Toma Fila, said the former president's daughter was charged with illegal weapons possession, questioned Monday and allowed to go home.

Traces of gunpowder were found on her hands, police said. She is suspected of firing shots, at least some of which hit the car of a government negotiator who had come to the family compound.

Even if Yugoslav authorities charge Milosevic with murder for some of the political killings, that seems unlikely to end international pressure to send him to The Hague.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington that it is a "top priority" for the international community to see Milosevic brought to justice. The United States would not be satisfied with having Milosevic tried only on charges of corruption and political assassination in his own country, he said.

Tentative Steps Acknowledged by U.S.

In making its decision Monday, the State Department acknowledged that the government of Kostunica had taken tentative steps to cooperate with the war crimes tribunal. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell noted that authorities in Belgrade, the Yugoslav and Serbian capital, have drafted a new law making it legal to work with the international court, although parliament has yet to pass it.

Milosevic's declaration that the state funds he secretly acquired were used to fund wars in Bosnia and Croatia represents a bid for public support that is unlikely to help with his defense.

Los Angeles Times Articles