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Thursday, 11 April, 2002, 14:54 GMT 15:54 UK
Belgrade approves war crimes law
Muslim graveyard
Most suspects are in Yugoslavia or the Bosnian Serb republic
The Yugoslav parliament has approved a new law that will pave the way for suspected war criminals to be extradited to the UN tribunal in The Hague.

The bill, a compromise worked out between members of the governing coalition, will only apply to suspects already indicted by the Netherlands-based court.

It can be expected that all the suspects will be handed over to The Hague tribunal by 1 May

Yugoslav Interior Minister, Zoran Zivkovic
It applies to about 20 suspects believed to be hiding in Yugoslavia and was approved in the lower house with 80 votes for and 39 against. The upper house approved it on Wednesday.

Among those likely to be handed over first are top associates of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who is already on trial for war crimes at the UN tribunal.

The government has been under pressure from Washington to start extraditing suspects - the US effectively froze $40m of aid after Yugoslav authorities failed to meet a 31 March deadline to act.

Aid resumption?

Thursday's decision could clear the way for the resumption of aid payments, but the US had demanded that Yugoslavia co-operate unconditionally with The Hague.

Under the current bill anyone indicted in the future will be tried by authorities in Yugoslavia.

Serbian Prime Minister  Zoran Djindjic
Djindjic says extraditions could start in three weeks

For the aid payments to begin again the US Secretary of State Colin Powell must certify the country's compliance.

Before the law was passed the Yugoslav Interior Minister, Zoran Zivkovic, who is in charge of police, said that the first extraditions could take place very soon.

"It can be expected that all the suspects will be handed over to The Hague tribunal by 1 May," Mr Zivkovic said.

Milosevic aides

That sentiment was echoed by Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, who said the first handovers would take place within three weeks.

Kosovo co-accused
Milan Milutinovic, Serbian President
Nikola Sainovic, former Yugoslav deputy prime minister
Vlajko Stojiljkovic, former Serbian Interior Minister
Dragoljub Ojdanic, former army chief of staff

Three of four men indicted with Mr Milosevic for war crimes in Kosovo are thought to be most at risk - a former deputy prime minister, a former interior minister, and a former army chief of staff.

Correspondents say that co-operation with The Hague is a deeply divisive issue in Yugoslavia, where many regard the court as illegal.

Mr Djindjic - who had faced tough opposition from nationalists and supporters of Mr Milosevic for advocating co-operation with the tribunal - said the law will resolve "all the problems we had with The Hague court and the American administration".

See also:

01 Apr 02 | Europe
Bosnia genocide suspect arrested
27 Mar 02 | Europe
Serbia signals move on war crimes
19 Feb 02 | Europe
Kostunica attacks Milosevic trial
30 Jun 01 | Europe
The Hague's wanted men
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