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Yugoslavia Backs Compromise on Milosevic

Balkans: Proposal for ex-leader to face trial at home and then be handed over to U.N. tribunal is supported by Britain.

April 05, 2001|DAVID HOLLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia — British and Yugoslav officials gave support Wednesday to a possible international compromise under which imprisoned former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic would first face trial at home, then be transferred to the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

"I think it is quite right that Mr. Milosevic should be held to account . . . for his crimes against the Serbs," British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said after meeting here with Vladan Batic, the justice minister of Serbia, the main republic in Yugoslavia. "But I told Mr. Batic that when Mr. Milosevic goes through due process for his crimes against the people in Serbia, he must be handed over to the Hague tribunal to be tried for crimes he committed against the people in the region."

Cook added that he would not "pressure or threaten" Yugoslavia's new democratic authorities.

Yugoslav Justice Minister Momcilo Grubac, meanwhile, told a news conference Wednesday that experts had finished drafting a law on cooperation with the tribunal and that it would probably be enacted by the end of May.

"We will not hand over our citizens to the Hague tribunal before the adoption of the law," Grubac said. "The law is being passed mainly to resolve this question."

The proposed law, which now goes to the Yugoslav parliament, states that the country will cooperate with the tribunal in all ways, "including the surrender to that tribunal of suspects, that is, indictees," Grubac said. "When it becomes law it will be binding for everyone, including those who politically think differently."

Passage of the proposed law is far from assured, however, because the government's coalition of democratic reformers lacks a majority in parliament.

Although Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica has declared that he opposes Milosevic's extradition, he has also repeatedly stated that the power to decide the issue does not lie with him.

The U.N. tribunal on Wednesday demanded the immediate transfer of Milosevic on charges of crimes against humanity stemming from his brutal crackdown on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, a province of Serbia.

"There is no impediment and nothing to stop us stating once again the point that the transfer is the result of a nonnegotiable obligation and it must happen immediately," Jean-Jacques Joris, political advisor to the tribunal's chief prosecutor, told reporters in The Hague.

Cook suggested that the Serbian authorities could serve Milosevic with his war crimes indictment now, to signal that he will eventually be transferred.

Meanwhile, about 250 Milosevic supporters called out by his Socialist Party of Serbia gathered Wednesday evening outside Belgrade's Central Prison, where the former president is being held on corruption charges, to shout slogans and sing songs in his praise.

"It's shameful that Robin Cook came here. He was one of those who decided to start the [1999] bombing [of Yugoslavia by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization]," said protester Ivana Ivkovic, 21, a law student whose father, Branislav, is the party vice president.

Many in the mostly elderly crowd wore paper tags declaring, "Arrest me. I'm Slobodan too." As about 35 police officers looked on, the demonstrators shouted, "Release Slobo, arrest Djindjic!"--a reference to Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, the key figure in ordering Milosevic's detention last weekend.

"This government of traitors has now arrested our hero!" student Sasa Djuric declared over a bullhorn.

The Socialists have called what they say will be a larger protest for Saturday afternoon. The upcoming rally may be a more important indicator of whether Milosevic--whose popularity has faded dramatically in recent months--still commands any significant level of public support.

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