The arrest of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic by authorities in Belgrade could be a breakthrough for the tortured Balkans. It could signal a determination by Serbia, the source of much of the region's decade of turmoil, to face up to past wrongs and reenter the community of nations.
Much depends on whether this move by the new leadership in Serbia presages cooperation with the international tribunal set up to handle war-crimes committed in Bosnia and, later, in Kosovo. Mr. Milosevic was indicted in 1999 for his role in the Serb military's onslaught against civilians in Kosovo.
His influence in generating and exploiting Serb nationalism also lay behind much of the earlier violence in Bosnia.
The more moderate politicians now heading Serbia and what's left of Yugoslavia have arrested Milosevic on a narrower set of charges related to his mismanagement and corruption of the Serbian economy. Those charges are valid, but they must be only a prelude to bringing Milosevic before the Hague tribunal.
The arrest was impelled, in large part, by a US deadline. Congress and the Bush administration had said that action indicating cooperation with the tribunal had to come by March 31, or promised American economic aid would be withheld.
Despite pleas from officials in Belgrade for a little more time, that deadline held firm. And those officials took the inevitable step of seizing Milosevic - despite loud, and sometimes armed, opposition from his supporters.
The ranks of those supporters are thinning. Most Serbs desperately want to see their country break with the recent past. That possibility now appears nearer. But Belgrade's moderates have to go beyond this first step.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor