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6 Serbs Will Surrender to U.N. Court, Yugoslavia Says

Balkans: Men are among 23 on list of war crimes indictees. Officials have pledged to arrest those who don't come forward.

April 24, 2002|ALISSA J. RUBIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia — Six Serbs indicted for war crimes, including three who were close to former President Slobodan Milosevic, will surrender to a United Nations court in The Hague, the Yugoslav government announced Tuesday.

If the six go to the war crimes tribunal voluntarily, as they have promised, they will be the first major Serbian suspects to face the court since the messy arrest and extradition of the former Yugoslav president last year.

"These people are definitely the most important indictees who are believed to be on Yugoslav territory, and their surrender should be seen as proof of Yugoslavia's full cooperation with the Hague tribunal," Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic said.

The first of the indictees is expected to travel to The Hague this week and the others in the next two to three weeks.

The government has a list of 23 Serbs indicted for war crimes that took place in the 1990s during conflicts in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and the Yugoslav province of Kosovo. Officials have pledged to arrest those in Yugoslavia who do not agree to go voluntarily.

At least one of the most wanted indictees, former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, is believed to be in Bosnia. The whereabouts of another Bosnian Serb wartime leader, former Gen. Ratko Mladic, is not known.

The announcement of the six indictees' agreement to surrender seemed to mark a turning point for the Yugoslav government in cooperating with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and presenting the issue to the Serbian public.

In the past, politicians have jockeyed over how to avoid blame for complying with The Hague's orders, and there have been constant fears of a backlash among Yugoslav citizens. However, the adoption of a law this month to permit the arrests and extradition appears to have helped defuse the issue.

"This is a major marker for the government. The fact that a law was adopted shows that there is a consensus among politicians to cooperate. It is no longer something that has to be done under cover of darkness," said Ljiljana Smajlovic, a political analyst in Belgrade, the capital of both Yugoslavia and its main republic, Serbia. "It shows we are able to behave like a normal country."

However, it was not clear that the announcement would be enough to secure the release of more than $40 million in aid that the United States froze when the Yugoslav government failed to meet a March 31 deadline for complying with the court.

It is all but certain that the money will remain frozen until the majority of the 23 indictees are transferred to The Hague and there is some commitment to open significant government archives to the tribunal, a diplomat said. The United States is supportive of the reform-oriented government in Belgrade but wants to see "concrete action," said the diplomat, who requested anonymity.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said that the U.S. welcomed the announcement but that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell had not decided whether to free up the aid.

The six indictees include at least two who probably have information that would be important to Hague prosecutors in the ongoing trial of Milosevic. They are former Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic and former army chief Dragoljub Ojdanic.

Both were indicted along with Milosevic and are accused of crimes against humanity in Kosovo, the majority ethnic Albanian province of Serbia. Thousands of ethnic Albanians were killed and about 800,000 fled their homes during the 1998-99 Yugoslav campaign against separatist rebels. The province is now under United Nations control.

Sainovic was widely viewed as a key Milosevic aide, while Ojdanic was at the top of the army chain of command that executed Yugoslav and Serbian policies in the province. Another indictee in the same case, former Interior Minister Vlajko Stojiljkovic, killed himself this month.

Although Sainovic rarely made public appearances, he was Milosevic's point man on Kosovo, often going to the province to direct the activities of troops and paramilitary forces. A videotape leaked to the media in 1999 suggests that he was in direct contact with Serbian officers at the time they slaughtered more than 45 ethnic Albanians in the village of Racak that year.

In a radio interview this week, Ojdanic made it clear that he did not believe that he was guilty of any crime and said he was going to The Hague "to defend the honor of the army, the state and the people, and in that way defend my innocence."

Also prepared to go voluntarily is Milan Martic, a leader of ethnic Serbs in Croatia who rebelled when the country seceded from Yugoslavia in 1991. As Croatian forces regained rebel-held territories, Martic allegedly ordered retaliatory missile fire against the Croatian capital, Zagreb, killing seven civilians and injuring 20.

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