- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 12, 2001

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia — Serbia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission has yet to begin its work, and already it is beset by controversy over ties between some members and ousted dictator Slobodan Milosevic.
Some critics have suggested that Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica formed the commission modeled after a similar body in postapartheid South Africa — in an attempt to compete with the international criminal court in The Hague.
With the former president, Mr. Milosevic, behind bars at The Hague, officials who carried out his orders will be reluctant to testify before the commission, fearing they would invite a similar fate.
"This is a problem," said Radmila Nakarada, a commission member who has written several books on the breakup of Yugoslavia. "Even if we were in the position to give amnesty, it wouldn't mean anything because The Hague tribunal could still indict them."
Three members have quit the 17-member panel already, complaining that the commission was not interested in seriously looking at Serbian crimes during a series of wars in the 1990s.
One of those to quit was Vojin Dimitrijevic, director of the Belgrade Center for Human Rights.
He objected to several fellow commissioners with strong nationalist leanings but quit because he thinks the commission is too weak.
As Mr. Kostunica formed it, the commission can't subpoena witnesses or provide amnesty from prosecution for those who testify, as the South African commission did.
"I would have been willing to remain there as a minority, but I see the commission is impotent," Mr. Dimitrijevic said.
Still, Miss Nakarada defended the commission's work as a necessary step in establishing a working democracy in Yugoslavia, which consists today of two republics, Serbia and Montenegro.
"Democratization here is not possible here without first knowing what happened here and who is responsible," she said.
"There is a tendency to close this question of truth with this indictment and trial of Slobodan Milosevic and I think that's too easy a way out. We don't want to fall into the pattern of minimizing or satanizing. We want to look at the reality."
Commissioners hope to assign guilt to specific people or institutions to erase the perception that Serbs are collectively guilty.
If a similar effort had been made after World War II, Serbs and Croats may not have held onto the simmering enmity that led to the wars of the 1990s, said Miss Nakarada, who is also a research fellow at the Institute for European Studies.
Mr. Kostunica formed the commission this past spring and appointed its 17 members. The commission hopes to get office space this summer and hold its first public meetings by fall.
Yugoslavia also doesn't have the resources to support a serious commission, many argue. Where South Africa's commission had a staff of 400, Yugoslavia's will have two.
"I started thinking Kostunica lost interest in the whole thing because funding is not available, the state is too poor," Mr. Dimitrijevic said.

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