BELGRADE, Yugoslavia — The government of Serbia adopted a measure Wednesday regulating cooperation with the U.N. war crimes tribunal as a U.S.-imposed deadline looms for Belgrade to prove that it is working with the court.
Cedomir Jovanovic, parliamentary leader of the ruling Democratic Opposition of Serbia reform alliance, said the move put more flesh on the bones of a decree passed last year that was used as the legal basis for handing former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic over to the tribunal in The Hague.
Earlier, a constitutional court judge was quoted as saying the original decree was set to be ruled invalid, which could raise fresh questions on the legality of Milosevic's transfer.
It also could open the way for a legal challenge to the new measure just as Yugoslavia and Serbia, its dominant republic, are under pressure to show signs of cooperation with the tribunal or face a freeze in financial aid from Washington.
Under U.S. legislation, about $40 million from the United States earmarked for Serbia will be suspended after March 31 if the Bush administration has not certified that Belgrade has passed a series of tests, including assisting the U.N. court.
The deadline has prompted widespread speculation that Serbian officials will soon hand over at least one suspect wanted by the tribunal, although the move would be unpopular with many Serbs, who see the court as biased against them.
Jovanovic appealed to indictees, who include former senior government and army members, to surrender to the tribunal.
"Otherwise, they should not expect us to put their interests before those of the state," he told reporters in Belgrade, the Yugoslav and Serbian capital.
A government statement said the new decision stipulated that Serbian state bodies should observe the tribunal's rules and procedures when cooperating with the Hague court until a domestic law on the issue is passed.
The Tanjug state news agency quoted constitutional court Judge Momcilo Grubac as saying that his court had adopted a decision quashing last year's decree but that it had not yet been finalized.
"It's true that the text of the decision was examined at a meeting of the Federal Constitutional Court, but this is not yet a final decision," Grubac said, according to Tanjug.