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Monday, 6 November, 2000, 21:55 GMT
Analysis: Spotlight on war crimes suspects
Ratko Mladic
Ratko Mladic: A top war crimes suspect still at large
By south-east Europe analyst Gabriel Partos

Until recently the Yugoslav President, Vojislav Kostunica, repeatedly denounced the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague as a politically-motivated court that was carrying out the instructions of Nato countries and showing open bias against the Serbs.

But since his election, Mr Kostunica has toned down his anti-tribunal rhetoric.

Instead of voicing outright opposition to the idea of handing over war crimes suspects - Slobodan Milosevic the most prominent among them - Mr Kostunica has reformulated his response, by saying that the war crimes issue is not a priority for his administration.

Mr Kostunica's less hostile approach to the tribunal has elicited a favourable response from the international community.

Instead of putting pressure on Belgrade to show willingness to co-operate with the tribunal, Yugoslavia is being allowed to join international organisations, such as the UN, without such preconditions.

Patience

It is believed that the kind of patience now being shown towards Yugoslavia has much to do with trying to ensure that Mr Kostunica and his supporters consolidate their hold on government against the remnants of the Milosevic regime.

Girl injured in siege of Sarajevo, 1995
Civilians suffered as Bosnian Serb forces rained down shells on Sarajevo during the Bosnia war

In other words, Belgrade will probably have an easy ride until after the Serbian parliamentary elections, now due in six weeks' time.

In the meantime, though, Belgrade is already making some concessions in its relations with the tribunal.

On Saturday, Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic announced that the tribunal would be allowed to open an office in Belgrade.

Mr Svilanovic, a prominent human rights campaigner, has a political past that is very different from that of the firmly nationalist President Kostunica.

And it is quite possible that there will be disagreements within the new Yugoslav leadership about the extent and speed of co-operation with the War Crimes Tribunal.

Tribunal's demands

The tribunal's own reaction was to welcome the move to allow it to open an office in Belgrade. But it said much more would be needed in future to prove that Yugoslavia was carrying out its obligations as a UN member, and abiding by the undertakings it made when Mr Milosevic signed the Dayton accords that led to an end to the war in Bosnia.

Slobodan Milosevic
Slobodan Milosevic: Accused of masterminding Serb aggression

In other words, Belgrade is expected to supply documents required by the tribunal and hand over war crimes suspects.

Currently The Hague's list of wanted Yugoslav officials includes Mr Milosevic and four of his closest associates. A further three indictments have been issued against three senior Yugoslav army officers.

Refuge

Yugoslavia is also providing refuge for a number of other war crimes suspects, most notably General Ratko Mladic, the wartime commander of Bosnian Serb forces.

Under its new liberal administration, Croatia has responded quickly this year to the tribunal's demands for closer co-operation.

Yugoslavia under Mr Kostunica is likely to adopt a slower and more reluctant approach.

In the meantime, both countries are suggesting that more of the war crimes trials should be held back home - rather than in The Hague - an idea that the tribunal is prepared to go along with, but not in the most important cases.

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See also:

06 Nov 00 | Europe
Belgrade back in fold
14 Oct 00 | Europe
Bosnia war: Main players
04 Oct 00 | Europe
UN prosecutor hints at arrests
11 Aug 00 | Europe
Profile: Radovan Karadzic
14 Mar 00 | Europe
Flashback: Srebrenica 1995
05 Aug 00 | Europe
Mladic blamed for Bosnia massacre
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