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Serbs Will Pay Those Accused of War Crimes

March 31, 2004|From Reuters

BELGRADE, Serbia and Montenegro — Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and other war crimes indictees will be paid by the Serbian taxpayer for as long as they are on trial at The Hague tribunal, under controversial legislation adopted by parliament Tuesday.

The new law provides all Serbian war crimes indictees at the United Nations tribunal with compensation for lost salaries, plus help to spouses, siblings, parents and children for flight and hotel costs, telephone and mail bills, visa fees and legal charges.

Embraced by Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's conservatives, the bill marks a first step in "two-way" cooperation with The Hague, his policy for redressing what he views as abject obedience in the past. "This is a sign that Serbia is changing its attitude to the Hague tribunal," said Tomislav Nikolic, acting leader of the Radical Party.

The past government of pro-Western reformists had treated all those who were not part of the anti-Milosevic movement as "war criminals ... and ... their families as enemies," he said.

A fellow Radical Party member told parliament that compensation was meant to help "people who are guilty only of being Serbs."

Milosevic is midway through his trial on charges of crimes committed during the Balkan wars that broke apart Yugoslavia. Former Serbian President Milan Milutinovic is waiting his turn along with Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj, whose deputy Nikolic is the front-runner in presidential elections expected this summer.

The law was adopted with ease on the eve of an annual U.S. ruling on whether Serbia is cooperating with the court and can continue receiving aid.

Opponents said it was a poorly disguised gesture of defiance toward the West and a payoff to Milosevic's Socialist Party for its backing of the minority government of Kostunica, a longtime critic of the tribunal.

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