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Vol 3, No 2
15 January 2001
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News from Serbia
All the most important news since 7 January 2001

Dan Damon


Is the net closing?

In an exciting week in Serbian politics, two big stories dominated. The first is an apparently dramatic change of heart by the new democratic administration towards the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague, the ICTY.

On Thursday, justic minister Momčilo Grubac issued an exhortation that would have been unthinkable even a few months ago. He called for all Yugoslav nationals indicted for alleged war crimes by the ICTY to follow the example of the former Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavšić and give themselves up. "Biljana Plavšić acted normally, in the way ever other citizen suspected by a court, local or international, should do," he announced. "The procedure does not mean that a person is guilty."

The chief prosecutor of the tribunal, Carla del Ponte, is due in Belgrade in a few days, and there have been a series of statements by Serb politicians indicating that a much more co-operative line could be taken in the future.

However, the new reformist government has also made it clear that they do not see extraditing Slobodan Milošević, with all of the attendant political risk, as a priority at the moment. Milošević and four of his closest allies have been indicted by the tribunal for crimes associated with the expulsion of tens of thousands of Albanians from Kosovo in 1999.

The US administration of Bill Clinton has offered a reward of USD five million for information leading to the arrest of Milošević and other alleged war criminals. It seems that Milošević himself may be safe from international justice for now: Yugoslavia's interior minister Zoran Živković declared this week that the former president should be afforded some police protection after his official escort is withdrawn, "because he should have some kind of protection from adventurous individuals who might be inspired by the five million dollar reward to kidnap him."

Furthermore, Minister Živković stated his belief that Yugoslavia had the most right to bring Milošević to trial. "The best solution would be to put him on trial here for charges coming from this state but also for those that might come from Croatia, Bosnia and The Hague," he said.


Smaller fish

The likelihood that those at lower levels may soon be on their way to The Hague does seem to be increasing. Also indicted, along with Biljana Plavšić, is the former Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladić and the civilian leader throughout the bloodiest period of the war, Radovan Karađić.

While Karađić is still elusive and might be harder to track down, Mladić is widely reported to be living in Belgrade and sightings have apparently been frequent. He may find that his appearance at the tribunal would be enough to satisfy the outside world that Serbia is serious about meeting some of the pressure to face up to its past, while the more difficult and dangerous target of international criminal justice, Milošević himself, remains beyond reach.


Reshaping the federation

The other big news story concerned the latest proposals by President Vojislav Koštunica for a new constitution to revitalise and preserve the federation with Montenegro. The new federation would be responsible for the protection of basic human rights, foreign and defence policy and economic and communications links, said the President, while both constituent states would have much stronger guarantees of autonomy.

Glas javnosti reported the President's comments at length: "The Council of Citizens [the proposed upper chamber of the new federal Parliament] should ensure the constitutional principle of equality of citizens in the federation. Considering the specific federal structure, a balancing mechanism should be introduced to ensure the adequate representation of each constituent state." However, Mr Koštunica continues to insist that the principle of "one-man-one-vote" should be applied in the Parliament, which would naturally give much greater influence to the much larger Serbian representation. He also called for a federal president to exercise control over the defence forces.

Montenegro did not welcome the new plan. Montenegro's Vijesti interviewed Montenegrin Deputy Prime Minister Dragiša Burzan, who said "this so-called minimal federation is almost the same as the former FRY. This is really unification, as far as I can tell, which didn't work before and won't work in the future." However, the minister did promise that further dialogue was possible, and unilateral steps towards complete independence would not take place before all negotiations had been exhausted.


Better phones

Finally, in a country where the basic infrastructure is still in ruins following the bombing of 1999, there was good news for businesses and those who can afford to buy a mobile phone. Glas javnosti carried an announcement by telecommunications minister Boris Tadić that a new service provider would be introduced this year, ending a monopoly situation that makes GSM mobiles in Yugoslavia some of the most expensive in Europe.

Dan Damon, 15 January 2001

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