- The Washington Times - Friday, April 12, 2002

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia The Yugoslav parliament passed a law yesterday that removes legal obstacles to the arrest and extradition of top associates of ex-President Slobodan Milosevic and other war-crimes suspects to the U.N. tribunal.

Hours after parliament adopted the law, Vlajko Stojiljkovic, a former Serbian interior minister who is among the indicted officials likely to be extradited, shot himself in the head in front of the downtown federal parliament building.

Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said passage of the law should satisfy the demands of the Netherlands-based International War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia for extradition of indicted suspects. He also said it should open the way for renewal of U.S. financial aid, which is on hold until Secretary of State Colin L. Powell certifies that Yugoslavia is cooperating with the court.

The law will resolve "all the problems we had with the Hague court and the American administration," Mr. Djindjic said.

The State Department said yesterday that Mr. Powell had not yet made a decision on the issue, and a spokesman for the U.N. court emphasized that Yugoslavia's cooperation should be "complete and unconditional."

The extradition law which applies to about 20 suspects hiding in Yugoslavia was approved by an 80-39 vote in the 138-seat lower parliament chamber, with the other deputies absent. The 40-seat upper house approved the law Wednesday and it will take effect upon publication in the official gazette, expected within days.

Before the vote, Yugoslav Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic, who is in charge of police, predicted quick action.

"It can be expected that all the suspects will be handed over to the Hague tribunal by May 1," Mr. Zivkovic said.

The suspects likely to be extradited first are top Milosevic associates indicted along with the ex-president in connection with atrocities committed during the 1998-99 crackdown on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

They include Gen. Dragoljub Ojdanic, a former army commander; Nikola Sainovic, a former security adviser; and Mr. Stojiljkovic.

A police officer said Mr. Stojiljkovic, who headed the police during the Milosevic reign, walked out of the parliament building shortly after 7 p.m., appeared to hesitate a few minutes and then calmly pulled out a pistol and shot himself. Hospital officials said he was undergoing medical treatment.

One of the most-wanted suspects, Bosnian Serb wartime military leader Gen. Ratko Mladic, is believed to be hiding near Belgrade. He was indicted for genocide in 1995 along with former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic, who is thought to be in Bosnia.

The passage of the law removes the major obstacle cited by opponents of extraditions, including Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, who has stressed that suspects should not be sent to the tribunal without a law regulating the process. Lawmakers from Mr. Kostunica's party voted in favor of the bill yesterday, leaving only Milosevic allies opposed to it.

The U.S. Congress had set a March 31 deadline for economically struggling Yugoslavia to cooperate with the tribunal or lose tens of millions of dollars in financial assistance and U.S. support for loans from international organizations.

With the deadline having passed, no U.S. assistance checks can be written for Yugoslavia until Mr. Powell certifies the country's compliance.

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