- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 29, 2001

Yugoslavia's ambassador yesterday pleaded for more time to arrest Slobodan Milosevic in the face of a U.S. deadline Saturday and a warning from the U.N. war crimes prosecutor that while Belgrade's cooperation was improving, her patience was running thin.
"We're doing the best we can," said Milan Protic, Yugoslavia's ambassador to the United States. "That's why five [aides to Mr. Milosevic] were arrested in Serbia the other day. We're trying to find enough evidence to arrest Milosevic on a firm basis."
Yugoslav authorities on Monday arrested Mr. Milosevic's allies in what may have been intended as a show of resolve. Under a clause in the 2001 Foreign Operations Assistance Act, Belgrade must meet three requirements by March 31 to be eligible for as much as $100 million in U.S. aid. Among the conditions is 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.
"We hope that all the important people in Washington will understand the situation we're in," the ambassador said. "We hope they'll certify [the financial assistance to Yugoslavia on March 31]. If not, the whole democratization process that we've done so far will be jeopardized."
"The [U.S. legislation] states that visible steps should be taken toward surrender and transfer of inductees, and that's exactly what we have been doing," Mr. Protic said.
International critics say that if President Bush certifies Yugoslavia without Mr. Milosevic's arrest, it will send a message that the country is receiving special treatment and undermine the United States' role in the region.
Mr. Protic said earlier this month that authorities would arrest Mr. Milosevic for war crimes and mismanagement of the economy before March 31. Mr. Milosevic reportedly had been in hiding, but he appeared in public over the weekend at an anti-NATO rally in Belgrade.
Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica has said the government would prefer to try Mr. Milosevic in Yugoslavia on domestic charges for fear of provoking an anti-Western backlash.
U.N. war crimes chief Carla del Ponte said yesterday that Mr. Kostunica's government had begun to make a visible effort to cooperate with the tribunal.
But she will brook no excuses from it or the governments of those countries of the former Yugoslavia for delaying arrests or extradition of suspects to The Hague, Reuters reported.
"I am not prepared to accept political excuses any more for any lack of cooperation," Mrs. del Ponte said in Sarajevo, winding up a three-day trip to Bosnia. "It's only when the work of the tribunal is successfully completed that there will be a realistic chance for lasting peace in the region."
The arrest of Mr. Milosevic, who lost presidential elections in October to Mr. Kostunica, is perceived by the international community and The Hague tribunal as a sign of Yugoslavia's commitment to democratic changes.
Mr. Protic said his government was working to meet the requirements, as evidenced by Monday's arrests, the opening of an an office for the The Hague tribunal in Belgrade and visits to The Hague.


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