$1 billion question: Where will Milosevic be tried?

Officials from the UN tribunal delivered a warrant for Milosevic's handover yesterday.

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Slobodan Milosevic now resides in a 10 by 13 foot cell in the Central Belgrade Jail (aka the Hyatt).

But nearly a week after the deposed Serbian leader was taken into custody, the future of Yugoslavia still hangs in the balance. Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica is faced with weighing his political needs and principles in a fledgling democracy against the cash that will flow into his country if he cooperates with the UN war crimes tribunal.

Officials from the UN tribunal arrived in Belgrade yesterday to deliver a warrant for the handover of Mr. Milosevic, who faces charges of domestic corruption. He was indicted in 1999 for the violent purges against the ethnic-Albanians living in Kosovo.

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But Milosevic's arrest, welcomed by everyone save a handful of supporters, has highlighted Yugoslavia's political rifts and has sent the nation on a new collision course with the Hague tribunal. Kostunica has accused the tribunal of anti-Serb bias, but more than a billion dollars in aid may hinge on turning Milosevic over.

An international donor's conference in June will consider giving funds to the cash-starved Yugoslavia - if it cooperates with The Hague. "We will not support a donor's conference and will not support its organization until we see that more steps [to cooperate with the tribunal] have been taken," said State Department spokesman Richard Baucher.

Carla Del Ponte, The Hague's chief prosecutor, will inform the UN Security Council in May of Yugoslavia's continued progress. That report could heavily influence the donors decisions.

"The prosecutor is looking for a guarantee that Milosevic and other war criminals will be extradited in due time, and such a guarantee has not been made yet," said a Western diplomat on condition of anonymity.

Guarantees notwithstanding, Milosevic bolstered the UN's case on Monday with his confession to diverting federal funds to Serbian armies in neighboring Bosnia and Croatia during their ethnic wars. It was the first such admission by a top Yugoslav official, and will help prove the "international character" of the wars, enabling UN prosecutors to show grave violations of the Geneva Conventions on war.

But President Kostunica says he's in no hurry to extradite Milosevic, given Yugoslavia's other problems. Ethnic fighting continues in southern Serbia, and Montenegro is pushing a referendum on independence.

"I think we'll be ready to cooperate, but that does not mean that we'll accept everything, including that which will threaten national dignity for a handful of dollars," Kostunica said this week.

Lord Russell Johnston, president of the European Council parliament, praised Kostunica's moves, but noted, "He should not ruin his reputation defending Milosevic, who has so much blood on his hands."

One barrier to handing Milosevic over is that Yugoslavia's new democracy has yet to pass a law governing extradition, democratic reformers say.

In the coming months, liberal and nationalist factions in the democratic coalition will aim to reach consensus.

Serbia's democratic reformers are anxiously awaiting the outcome of Montenegro's elections later this month. If Montenegro votes for independence, the political equation will change in parliament, with the loss of several Milosevic allies.

Reformers will undoubtedly be monitoring public opinion. Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djinjdic, a political pragmatist, has proven himself far more flexible toward The Hague than Kostunica, but the Yugoslav president is more popular.

Feelings among Yugoslavians are mixed as to what to do with Milosevic. A poll taken by Belgrade polling agency Medium several weeks ago showed 55 percent favored Milosevic's extradition, but only 33 percent did so unconditionally. The poll's organizer, Srbobran Brankovic, said that the future trend in public sentiment is uncertain.

"As more and more demands are made by the international community, there could be a backlash on the issue of extradition," says Mr. Brankovic. "A lot depends on how the demands are communicated."

Sociologist Slobodan Cvejic says Prime Minister Djindjic's pragmatism will finally prevail over the anti-Hague nationalism.

"The relationship between the Hague and Yugoslavia is right now similar to that between a parent and child," says Mr. Cvejic. "The Hague controls the flow of money, and citizens will gradually realize what needs to be done in order to improve their economic situation."

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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