- The Washington Times - Monday, April 2, 2001

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia Authorities maintained yesterday that former President Slobodan Milosevic, arrested at dawn after a tense 26-hour standoff, would be tried in Yugoslavia despite U.S. demands that he be delivered to an international tribunal in the Netherlands.
The move leaves a tough decision for the Bush administration, which must decide as early as today whether the Yugoslav government is doing enough to cooperate with the International War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia to warrant continued U.S. aid. President Bush welcomed the arrest yesterday but called for Mr. Milosevic to be tried for crimes against humanity.
Mr. Milosevic, seen as the driving force behind a decade of bitter ethnic wars across the Balkans, surrendered before dawn after an armed standoff at his Belgrade compound during which he reportedly threatened to kill himself rather than give up.
He was taken to Belgrade's Central Prison, a huge, gray, communist-era building, where he was ordered held for 30 days while officials prepare evidence for charges of corruption and abuse of power during his 13-year rule.
"This is no five-star hotel," said Toma Fila, Mr. Milosevic's lawyer. "This is a Balkan prison… . Some cells are better, which means he has hot and cold water, but no TV or radio, or a gym or a swimming pool."
Belgrade residents, many of whom stayed awake through two nights of the standoff, seemed emotionally drained yesterday. A few Milosevic supporters appeared outside the prison but were quiet and were outnumbered by journalists.
By evening, the street in front of the prison was empty, as was the area around Mr. Milosevic's compound.
In Washington, Mr. Bush welcomed the arrest and said it "should be a first step toward trying him for the crimes against humanity with which he is charged."
However, in a hint that the administration may be prepared to certify that Belgrade is cooperating with the Balkan war-crimes tribunal, he said, "I assure the Yugoslav government and people that they can count on the friendship of the United States as they continue down the path of democratic and economic reform."
Congress has ordered that $50 million in U.S. aid to the new government of President Vojislav Kostunica must be cut off if the Belgrade administration did not begin cooperating with The Hague tribunal and meeting other conditions by March 31.
Secretary of State Colin Powell was expected to announce a decision today, though a spokesman said over the weekend that the decision could be delayed.
Tribunal officials yesterday welcomed the arrest and predicted that Mr. Milosevic would be brought to the Netherlands by year's end. "We are expecting him soon," said spokeswoman Florence Hartmann. "It will be Milosevic in The Hague in 2001."
But Yugoslav authorities, who came to power in elections late last year, have long held that it is not possible to extradite the former president before the passage of an extradition law now pending before parliament.
"Until we have the law … none of our citizens can be handed over" to The Hague, Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic told reporters in Belgrade yesterday. He denied there was a connection between the timing of the arrest and the U.S. deadline for certification.
The international tribunal is widely perceived in Yugoslavia as illegitimate and biased against the majority Serbs. The government would prefer a domestic trial in Belgrade where Mr. Milosevic could be accused of corruption and other crimes against his own people.
But human rights groups, which have urged the Bush administration to deny aid to Yugoslavia, said that will not accomplish much.
"Prosecuting Milosevic on corruption charges can never provide justice for the hundreds of thousands of victims of war-time atrocities in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo," said Holly Cartner, executive director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch.
And in Washington, Sen. Mitch McConnell said on Fox News Sunday that he doubted the Yugoslav government had the "infrastructure … to put on a fair and free trial."
"My personal view is that the aid ought to be cut off until Milosevic is handed over to the international tribunal," the Kentucky Republican said.
For many Yugoslavs, it is of secondary importance whether Mr. Milosevic is imprisoned in Belgrade or in The Hague.
"It's justice. When we were arrested, it was only because of his orders. But his arrest is based on the law and on evidence," said Milos Milenkovic, who was put in jail three times and beaten by police four times for his association with the student protest group Otpor.
"Of course people care about The Hague," he said. "But in this moment, it's not the primary question. The most important thing is that he is in jail."
This article is based in part of wire service reports.

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