- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 28, 2000


Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, facing war-crimes charges abroad and an increasingly defiant opposition at home, has little hope of gracefully retiring from the political scene even if he wanted to.
In a period of intense jockeying after the stunning win by opposition candidate Vojislav Kostunica in Sunday's vote, both Mr. Milosevic and his opponents were weighing their options yesterday even as Western leaders were insisting that Mr. Milosevic step down and be brought to justice.
Mr. Kostunica, while maintaining he won Sunday's vote outright, repeatedly has said he opposed the war-crimes indictment handed down last year by the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) against Mr. Milosevic and four aides over the campaign in Kosovo.
Opposition figures yesterday said they only wanted to remove Mr. Milosevic from power, not punish him.
"We don't have the time or the energy to resolve the problems of the past," said Zoran Djindjic, leader of Serbia's Democratic Party and a member of Mr. Kostunica's 18-party opposition coalition.
"For us, Mr. Milosevic is a problem of the past," he said.
Many Serbs fear that a cornered Mr. Milosevic who has dominated the country for a dozen years with a mixture of force and political guile would not go peacefully. They fear he could provoke a crisis in Serbia's sister republic of Montenegro or use the massive demonstrations of recent days as an excuse to impose martial law.
"I hope we do not see a Romanian scenario here," said Slobodan Vuksanovic, a member of Mr. Kostunica's Democratic Opposition of Serbia movement.
Neighboring Romania experienced a violent transfer of power in 1989 when security forces continued to fire on unarmed civilians for days after ousted Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife were executed.
But with the removal of sanctions such as a ban on International Monetary Fund and World Bank aid to Yugoslavia contingent upon Mr. Milosevic being delivered to the international court, allowing the Serbian leader to fade away may not be an option.
"The more you consider the image of Milosevic retiring to his ranch somewhere, the more unlikely it becomes, whatever Kostunica's position on the war-crimes charges," said Daniel Serwer, who follows Balkan politics for the Washington-based U.S. Institute of Peace.
"The United States is not going to put up with that, and there are so many people within Serbia itself who want to get Milosevic as well," Mr. Serwer said.
International war-crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte said this week that any post-Milosevic government will have to honor the indictments if it wants to restore normal relations with its neighbors.
"If Mr. Kostunica wants closer cooperation with Europe, cooperation with the ICTY is a premise," she told reporters during a visit to Washington to meet with U.S. government officials this week.
Mrs. del Ponte said new indictments were being prepared for Mr. Milosevic over the actions of Serbian forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, which broke away from the Yugoslav federation during the 1990s.
Desperate to see Mr. Milosevic depart, the U.S. government in recent days has refrained from an explicit demand that a Kostunica-led government hand him over in order to have sanctions lifted.
"We expect the new government to stand up for the rule of law," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Tuesday. "We'll just have to see how that works out."
Another option for Mr. Milosevic would be to flee to a friendly regime, with Belarus and Iraq among the candidates mentioned.
Key here may be the attitude of Russia, a traditional Serbian ally that has thus far not joined in denunciations issuing from Western capitals over the fairness of Sunday's vote.
"Russia strongly believes that the Yugoslav people have the right to fully express themselves without any internal or external pressure," Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said yesterday in Moscow.
"It is important that the situation is not destabilized, which would play into the hands of those forces who have no interest in maintaining Yugoslavia's territorial integrity," Mr. Ivanov said.
But James Hooper, head of the Washington office of the International Crisis Group, a think tank, said allowing Mr. Milosevic to flee presents its own problems, undermining the work of the international court and creating the possibility that Mr. Milosevic may plot to return to Belgrade someday.
"I know everyone would be so happy just to see the guy gone," Mr. Hooper said, "but it would be very dangerous for Mr. Kostunica and for the United States to go down that road."
The election presents both the government and its opponents with a number of options, analysts said.
Amid charges of vote-rigging and fraud, the official tally gave Mr. Kostunica 48 percent to Mr. Milosevic's 40 percent, mandating a runoff between the two Oct. 8.
Mr. Kostunica's forces have denounced the official count, but now must decide whether to legitimize the tally by participating in the second round or hand Mr. Milosevic a potential victory by default by staging a boycott.
Yugoslav law also gives Mr. Milosevic considerable maneuvering room even if Mr. Kostunica is elected, Mr. Serwer noted.
Under a disputed reading of the constitution that Milosevic backers pushed through this past summer, Mr. Milosevic retains his mandate as Yugoslav Federation president through August 2001, and could maneuver to strip Mr. Kostunica of his power.
Mr. Milosevic also retains leverage as head of the Socialist Party and leader of one of the largest blocs in the Yugoslav parliament, and could set up a parallel government from there. And if Mr. Milosevic can provoke a revolt in Montenegro, he could even make the argument that the country Mr. Kostunica was elected to run no longer exists.
Ben Barber contributed to this report, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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