As recently as March, current President Vojislav Kostunica had vowed Milosevic would never be handed over. But mounting pressure from the U.S. — and from reformers within the government — appears to have achieved the impossible.
The U.S. rewarded Yugoslavia yesterday for taking preliminary steps toward extradition, by announcing it would attend an international donors’ conference that opens Friday in Brussels. The conference is expected to raise up to $1 billion for cash-strapped Yugoslavia, still struggling to recover from decades of corruption and neglect, and the 1999 NATO bombing campaign that destroyed much of its infrastructure.
“The transfer of Milosevic to The Hague is an unequivocal message to those persons who brought such tragedy and brutality to the Balkans that they will be held accountable for their crimes,” President Bush said in a statement. “The United States stands ready to assist the people of Yugoslavia as they continue to take the difficult steps to advance its democratic and economic reform.”
Milosevic’s lawyers yesterday had launched a last-minute legal appeal, arguing that a government decree on cooperation with the tribunal, pushed through by reformist ministers over the weekend, violated a constitutional ban on the extradition of Yugoslav citizens. But backers of the measure said handing a suspect over to The Hague did not amount to an extradition as the tribunal is a UN institution, not a foreign state.
Milosevic, who has been jailed since April, still has a strong following in Yugoslavia, particularly among older residents and war veterans. Earlier this week, more than 10,000 people marched through Belgrade to protest the decree of cooperation.
Exhuming the evidence
Several weeks ago, Serbian police said they believe Milosevic ordered a truck filled with Albanian corpses be dumped into the Danube River in 1999 in order to hamper a war crimes investigation by the Hague.
The truck, with more than 50 bodies still inside, was later pulled from the river by local police, but Milosevic and his allies put a quick end to any investigation by declaring the matter a “state secret.” The bodies were then disposed of and have never been found.
Bodies of more than 4,000 ethnic Albanians were exhumed in Kosovo after Yugoslav troops withdrew. More than 3,000 ethnic Albanians are still missing.