- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 27, 2001

Yugoslavia's new Western-oriented government must decide this week whether to arrest former President Slobodan Milosevic or risk the loss of as much as $100 million in U.S. aid.
A clause in the 2001 Foreign Operations Assistance Act makes future aid to the Belgrade government conditional on its meeting three requirements by March 31, including cooperation with the International War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia at The Hague.
The tribunal indicted Mr. Milosevic, along with four of his closest allies, in May 1999 on charges of atrocities against the ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo.
However, the new government of President Vojislav Kostunica has said it would prefer to try Mr. Milosevic in Yugoslavia on domestic charges for fear of provoking an anti-Western backlash.
"We are squeezed between a rock and a hard place," said Yugoslav Ambassador Milan Protic at a recent press conference in Washington.
"On one side, there are the expectations from the international community. On the other, there are the expectations from our voters who want the government to be effective and bring peace to the region."
If Mr. Milosevic is not arrested this week, President Bush will face a quandary of his own in deciding whether to certify that the Belgrade government has done enough to qualify for U.S. aid. If not, the United States would also oppose loans to Yugoslavia from international organizations like the World Bank.
"If there's no certification … the U.S. will lose significant foreign policy leverage to exert influence in the Balkan region," said Julie Mostov, a professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia, who has monitored the Balkans for the past decade.
Other conditions laid out in the aid authorization require that Yugoslavia end its backing for a separate Serbian republic in Bosnia-Herzegovina and that it establish minority rights and the rule of law.
Yugoslav authorities yesterday arrested several allies of Mr. Milosevic in what may have been intended as a show of resolve.
"A group of seven or eight senior officials of [Mr. Milosevic's] Socialist Party of Serbia and [his wife Mirjana Markovic's] Yugoslav Left have been arrested today for abuse of their position, theft, and other financial crimes," a political source was quoted as telling Reuters news agency.
Reuters said those arrested included Danilo Pantovic, an aide to former interior minister Vlajko Stojiljkovic who has been indicted by the war crimes tribunal.
Mr. Protic told reporters in Washington this month that authorities would arrest Mr. Milosevic for war crimes and mismanagement of the economy before the March 31 deadline.
Mr. Milosevic had been reported to have gone into hiding for fear of arrest, but he appeared in public at an anti-NATO rally in Belgrade over the weekend.
"We are ready to deal with Milosevic's accountability," the ambassador said. "It's not easy, though, due to enormous problems with the judiciary, which we inherited from Milosevic.
"We also have a problem with testimonies of witnesses, so it's going to take another 10 days before we … have enough evidence to put Milosevic under arrest," he said at his March 15 press conference.
However, an official with the affiliated government of Serbia, the dominant republic in Yugoslavia, was quoted yesterday saying he had won a yearlong grace period for Mr. Milosevic's arrest from international officials.
Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic, who visited The Hague last week, said he had told tribunal officials, " 'Come on, you can't set deadlines and ultimatums and blackmail us just like that.'
"I just said: 'Don't bother us with Milosevic for two years,' and the answer was a year," Mr. Batic told reporters in Belgrade.
International critics say that if Mr. Bush certifies Yugoslavia without Mr. Milosevic being sent to The Hague it will send a message that the country is receiving special treatment and undermine the U.S. role in the region.
"In practice, flexible standards on war crimes will corrode both the legitimacy of the international court and the consolidation of democratic governance and the rule of law throughout the region," said Janusz Bugajski of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Sens. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, and Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, have written to Secretary of State Colin Powell urging that the Bush administration insist on the arrest of the former president.
"We are confident that you share our conviction that the apprehension and surrender of Mr. Milosevic and other war criminals is necessary to uphold the rule of law and build trust in Serbia's neighbors," their letter said.
But Mr. Protic argued it was "unfair" to expect too much from a government that had no control of the nation's legislative machinery before parliamentary elections in December.
"None of us in the Serbian and Yugoslav governments has any doubts about Milosevic's personal accountability for everything that was done so badly in the last 10 years," Mr. Protic said.
"But the question is, could this be portrayed back home by our adversaries as a misuse of the judicial system in order to eliminate a dangerous political enemy?"
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher recently said the Bush administration had not yet decided whether to issue the certification.
"In making this decision, we will look at all aspects of their cooperation with the tribunal and the other issues that are specified by Congress, including promoting democracy, human rights and the rule of law," he said.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide