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Law Prompts Suicide Bid by Serb Indictee

Yugoslavia: Ex-official at risk of extradition on war crimes charges is near death after shooting himself at the parliament.

April 12, 2002|ALISSA J. RUBIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia — A former Serbian government official accused of crimes against humanity shot himself on the steps of Yugoslavia's parliament Thursday, just hours after the passage of a controversial law easing the transfer of war crimes suspects to an international tribunal in the Netherlands.

The incident set off a political maelstrom and almost certainly will undermine the status of the reform government in Belgrade, which has been trying to comply with international mandates in bringing war criminals to justice.

Vlajko Stojiljkovic, a former Serbian interior minister and one of several figures indicted with former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic for alleged war crimes, went to the parliament building in Belgrade, handed a letter to an ultranationalist legislator, then fired a shot into his own head. Late Thursday evening he was near death in a Belgrade hospital.

In the letter, he blamed Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, among others, for his decision to kill himself, and accused them of collaborating with Western countries that aided the breakup of the Yugoslav federation. He accused the government leaders of being "marionettes of the greatest enemy of our people, Javier Solana [and of] carrying out a policy of treason and capitulation." Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, was NATO's secretary-general at the time of the alliance's 1999 air campaign against Yugoslavia.

The leaders of Serbia, the main Yugoslav republic, in effect set the country's policy. Djindjic was the key architect of Milosevic's arrest and extradition last year, which was carried out despite resistance from political rivals. Milosevic is now on trial in The Hague for his alleged role in atrocities committed by his troops in Kosovo, a Serbian province, and in Bosnia-Herzego-vina and Croatia.

The text of Stojiljkovic's suicide letter was released by a member of the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party and was widely broadcast on television and radio.

It had been expected that Stojiljkovic, 64, would be turned over to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague shortly after the law's passage. Two other indictees expected to be transferred are Gen. Dragoljub Ojdanic, a former army chief of staff, and Nikola Sainovic, a former deputy prime minister and now a member of the Yugoslav parliament.

In his position as interior minister of Serbia, Stojiljkovic controlled the secret police and other law enforcement agencies and was believed to have been present at strategy meetings for military operations in Kosovo, whose population is predominantly ethnic Albanian.

During 1998 and 1999, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians were expelled from their homes and forced to flee the province for the neighboring countries of Macedonia and Albania. About 10,000 Kosovo Albanians were killed in 1998 and 1999. Yugoslav and Serbian forces left the province only after weeks of bombing by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Liberals in Serbia, who want the government to cooperate with the Hague court and face the dark history of the last decade, fear that the suicide attempt will undermine efforts both to apprehend war crimes suspects and to keep a reform government in power.

"This event will be used by individuals and the political parties that have advocated openly against cooperation with The Hague," said Sonja Biserko, director of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia.

"As it was, the law that was passed was a compromise. . . . This indicates how deeply our society was involved in support for Milosevic," she said.

Several political analysts said the suicide attempt was shocking, even though Stojiljkovic had told family, friends and political associates that he would never go to The Hague alive. Still, the long-term political implications were worrisome for reformers.

"Such a tragic event of course will have impact on the Serbian political scene," said Bratislav Grubacic, a political analyst in Belgrade, the Serbian and Yugoslav capital. "It leaves a sort of bitter taste in people's mouths and further decreases the popularity of the Serbian government."

The extradition law, which applies to about 20 suspects thought to be in Yugoslavia, was approved by an 80-39 vote in the 138-seat lower house. The 40-seat upper house approved the law Wednesday.

Justice and police officials have said that they expect those war crimes suspects who are still in Serbia to be handed over to The Hague in the next couple of weeks. However, two of the most notorious indictees--Gen. Ratko Mladic and former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic--were not expected to be among them.

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