- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 26, 2004

BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro — Serbian President Boris Tadic, facing growing international isolation, is under increasing pressure to hand war-crime suspects over to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague.

But he also is determined to make up time lost under Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and is optimistic about the chances for cooperation in a region torn apart by centuries of war.

In Sarajevo, scene of much of the fighting during the breakup of Yugoslavia, Mr. Tadic publicly apologized for war crimes committed by Serbians. He sees the apology as “a first movement” toward reconciliation.

“If I have to be the first to apologize, I’m prepared to do that, but others, too, have to look at their own part of history in the region. There are lots of dirty things that we did, altogether, and not only in the last decade but in the last century.”

He blames Serbia’s continued international isolation on “a kind of punishment” for its actions in the 1990s under Mr. Milosevic.

“But I have to say that the general perception of Serbia as a country which is guilty for war is wrong. In this region it is impossible to explain who is guilty and who is a victim.

“In that sense I’m trying to create new regional policy with trust between nations and in that sense we have to find solutions for our joint problems. That means that everyone who is guilty for war crimes should be in The Hague tribunal right now. This is the only solution for our problems.”

Cooperation with the war-crimes tribunal is a major sticking point in his relations with Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and the new prime minister of Kosovo, Ramus Haradinaj.

Mr. Kostunica gained popularity for his nationalist views and is more reluctant to hand over war-crime suspects to The Hague. Mr. Tadic describes his relationship with Mr. Kostunica as “interesting.”

“We don’t have the same approach or way of thinking on many areas,” he said.

Commentators expect a political battle between them soon.

Mr. Haradinaj, a former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army, is under investigation for war crimes by the tribunal at The Hague.

“As a president who is trying to find peace, it’s not acceptable to deal with him. If I’m consistent with my position on handing in Serbian war criminals, I have to propose the same for Albanian, Croatian and Bosnian criminals,” Mr. Tadic said.

He also said cooperation with The Hague is difficult for practical reasons.

“When I mentioned this to [U.S. Defense Secretary] Donald Rumsfeld, who has a lot of experience, he said, ‘Yes, I have the same problem with Osama Bin Laden; I can’t find him.’

“I don’t want to compare Osama Bin Laden and Ratko Mladic, but it’s difficult because of his own experience and his knowledge of secret hiding places. My perception is that the war criminals are crossing between Serbia and Bosnia.”

Gen. Mladic was the army chief to Bosnian-Serb leader Radovan Karadzic throughout the Bosnian war. Both are wanted by the tribunal.

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