The U.S. will not insist that Milosevic be handed over to the UN war crimes tribunal in the Hague to stand trial for the persecution and slaughter of thousands of Kosovar Albanians during the 1999 campaign of “ethnic cleansing.”
Instead, President George Bush and other world leaders hailed the arrest of Milosevic as an important first step on the road to the Hague.
“We cannot forget the chilling images of terrified women and children herded onto trains, emaciated prisoners interned behind barbed wire, and mass graves unearthed by UN investigators,” Bush said.
But Sen. Mitch McConnell, (R-Ky.), told “Fox News Sunday” that he doubted the government had the “infrastructure … to put on a fair and free trial,” and aid should be cut off until Milosevic is handed over.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), also said the arrest of Milosevic on domestic corruption charges is not enough. Leahy, who authored legislation tying financial aid to evidence of Belgrade’s cooperation with the Hague, pointed out that the arrest came only after the U.S. threatened to cut off financial aid.
The arrest occurred just hours before the deadline for the U.S. to certify Belgrade’s cooperation and release the $50 million. Yugoslav officials insisted the timing of the arrest was not related to the funding deadline.
A huge cache of weapons
Milosevic was taken into custody Sunday, after a tense 2-day standoff with police at his Belgrade villa — a luxurious compound built for Yugoslav dictator Josip Broz Tito. Milosevic’s bodyguards and his 32-year-old daughter Marjia shot at police from inside the house, injuring four people.
Milosevic, 59, had vowed during the standoff that he would not be arrested alive, and threatened to kill himself, his wife and daughter. Milosevic, whose parents each committed suicide, showed violent mood swings, Yugoslav officials said. He later surrendered, exhausted, when authorities promised he would receive a fair trial and would not be turned over to the Hague where he could face a life sentence.
After the arrest, authorities found a huge cache of weapons in the villa, including two armored personnel carriers, 30 automatic weapons and an anti-tank grenade launcher.
Milosevic is expected to spend at least 30 days in jail before standing trial in Belgrade on charges ranging from embezzlement and corruption to inciting violence. Yugoslav officials say the sentence for such convictions would likely range from 5 to 15 years in prison.
Although many older Serbs and war veterans still support Milosevic (and in fact rallied outside his villa during the standoff leading to his arrest) many younger Serbs blame Milosevic for ruining the nation’s economy.
Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, who ousted Milosevic from power following elections last October, has repeatedly opposed handing over Milosevic to the Hague, which Kostunica claims is biased against Serbs.
However, other Serb leaders, including Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, appear more open to sending Milosevic to the Hague after a local trial. Political observers say Milosevic must be discredited at home first before the public will accept an international trial for war crimes. The Yugoslav parliament is expected to lift a restriction soon on extraditing its citizens to foreign governments, removing the final legal barrier to extradition.
U.S. officials put no specific restrictions on the $50 million, but Secretary Powell warned that Belgrade must continue to cooperate with the Hague tribunal or the U.S. would withhold support for an international donors’ conference to aid the country’s failing economy. The late May conference could raise $1 billion for Yugoslavia.