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Wednesday, 10 January, 2001, 02:58 GMT
Milosevic trial: Home or away?
Slobodan Milosevic
Milosevic: Investigated for corruption and political killings
By south-east Europe analyst Gabriel Partos

With the former Bosnian Serb President, Biljana Plavsic now in The Hague - apparently prepared to co-operate with the UN's war crimes tribunal - there is continuing controversy over ex-President Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia and whether he should face trial in The Hague or in his own country.

The outgoing US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, said a few days ago that Washington would not object to a trial in Belgrade if the UN tribunal agreed to that, but tribunal officials have indicated this would not be acceptable.

Vojislav Kostunica
Mr Kostunica is still arguing for a trial in Belgrade
The new Yugoslav President, Vojislav Kostunica, has been adamant since he took office three months ago that his predecessor - who has been indicted for war crimes in Kosovo - will not be sent to The Hague for trial.

Mr Kostunica says that is because his country's constitution bans the extradition of its citizens.

Besides, he considers the UN war crimes tribunal to be a political, not a judicial body, which - in his view - has been manipulated by Nato and, first and foremost, the United States.

Although Mr Kostunica has gradually toned down his criticism of The Hague tribunal, he and most other prominent figures in Serbia's new democratic leadership are still insisting that ex-President Milosevic should be put on trial in Belgrade before a Serbian court.

Already accusations of involvement in corruption, electoral fraud and political assassinations have been levelled against the former Serbian strongman, and these charges are being investigated by Serbian prosecutors.

Tribunal dismisses Belgrade

At the end of last week Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic went a step further by suggesting that The Hague tribunal itself might have a role to play in a trial of Mr Milosevic on war crimes charges which should still go ahead in Belgrade.

Stipe Mesic
Croatian President Stipe Mesic has pledged to co-operate
However, the tribunal prosecutor's spokeswoman, Florence Hartman, dismissed the idea, noting that Belgrade was not a neutral venue and that it would be difficult to get many Kosovar Albanian witnesses to testify there.

Indeed, one of the reasons for having the war crimes tribunal in a distant, neutral location is precisely to take out the immediate political passions that would surround trials, whether in Belgrade, Zagreb or Sarajevo.

Within former Yugoslavia judges would be much more likely to be targeted by hardline and potentially violent supporters or opponents of the defendants.

Besides, if the court were not made up of the tribunal's staff but by local Serbian judges, it would be hard to get an impartial panel.

Serbia's emerging new leaders are the first to admit that the justice system that was established as part of the clientage network of the Milosevic regime needs to be dismantled.

But if new judges are appointed, there is a danger that they would be seen as close associates of the new leaders, especially in the case of a trial involving the ex-president.

Indeed, a judicial process of that kind in Belgrade could easily turn into a show trial and would be regarded by some as the victors' justice.

Risk for new leadership

Given these difficulties, there is little to be said for holding a trial in Belgrade - particularly since that would embitter the authorities in Sarajevo and Zagreb who have been co-operating with The Hague tribunal.

Croatia has amended its constitution to allow for the extradition of its citizens - a move that is equally open to Belgrade to follow.

Belgrade's problem is that Mr Milosevic's extradition would probably weaken public support for the new Serbian administration - particularly among the nationalist constituency.

But it is an issue the new leaders may well have to get to grips with.

Many of Yugoslavia's once again friendly international partners may tie at least a part of their potential aid to Belgrade's compliance with the tribunal's requirements.

Besides, the new leadership may find that it is better to have Mr Milosevic as far away from Serbia as possible.

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24 Dec 00 | Europe
Milosevic 'to face justice'
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