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Vol 3, No 4
29 January 2001
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News from Serbia
All the important news
since 20 January 2001

Eleanor Pritchard


New government

Serbia's new parliament held its first session on Monday, and a new government with Zoran Đinđić as prime minister was formed on Thursday following the landslide DOS victory in the 23 December elections.

In the inaugural session, Serbia's 250-seat legislature verified deputies' mandates and elected the speaker, deputy speakers and other assembly officials.


Relations with Montenegro

Following Montenegro's declaration of intention to schedule early legislative elections on 22 April, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Đinđić proposed that Montenegro should remain within the existing Yugoslav federation for a further three years, at the end of which the federation could be dissolved, if the Montenegrins so wished.

He emphasised the potential effects on Kosovo if Montenegro were to secede. Latest poll figures show 49.8 per cent of Montenegrins in favour of independence, with 39.8 per cent against (Center for Human Rights & Damar agency). Yugoslav President Vojislav Koštunica later announced that, if Montenegro formally split from Serbia, there would be no possibility of a future reconciliation, yet he had no intention to prevent the republic's bid for independence.


Relations with Kosovo

Head of the United Nations Interim Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), Hans Hækkerup, has attracted criticism from Albanian leaders for proposing to open a liaison office in Belgrade. The controversy highlights the new challenges facing Hækkerup in bridging the divide between Serbs and Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority. Some have commented that whereas Bernard Kouchner, former UNMIK chief, was able to shut out Serbia, the new government means that his successor will have to engage with the reformers which will inevitably add further layers of negotiation and complication to an already complicated process.

The Liberation Army of Preševo, Medveđe and Bujanovac (UÇPMB) fighters and Serb security forces clashed on Wednesday in the Preševo Valley. The clashes appeared to be the most serious fighting in the area since November 2000, when four Serbian policemen were killed.

Both Serbian and Albanian sources said fighting broke out in the village of Veliki Trnovac and that two ethnic Albanians had been wounded. After that point, each blamed the other for the escalation in violence. However, the strength of the Albanian attack did force police to pull back 150 metres from a checkpoint on the Bujanovac-Veliki Trnovac road.


To extradite or not to extradite?
Now that really is the question...

Whether Milošević will or will not be extradited is a question that has been on many minds since the dramatic events of last October. This week saw the final jigsaw piece necessary for a decision slip into place; the democratically elected Serbian parliament sat. The Hague held its breath. And as is often the case on such anticipated occasions, nothing really happened.

Despite repeated insistence that the government is united in its determination to try Milošević in a domestic court, several important figures showed suspicious indications of having their own opinions. These included human rights campaigner Nataša Kandć who said she believed the new administration to have a responsibility to send Milošević to The Hague, and Justice Minister-designate Vladan Batić who was reported in Vesti (21 January) as having said that Milošević must go to The Hague and face the war crimes charges against him.

Carla Del Ponte visited Belgrade for three days this week, where she met with Koštunica to discuss Milošević's prosecution. Reports cited her variously as disappointed, flustered and angry by the responses she received from the new President, who remained firm that extradition of a Yugoslav citizen was against the constitution.

She left a meeting with the President earlier than expected and did not make a formal press statement as expected, but stated in no uncertain terms "we must be the first to try Milošević because we have a trial ready" and rejected an offer extended by the new administration to spend time in Serbia and observe the legal system there, saying it would take too long.

It can hardly be a great surprise to observers who have quickly become familiar with the pedantic, almost obsessive regard and observance Koštunica (a former law professor) maintains for law and protocol. However, Del Ponte remained "optimistic" that Milošević would eventually stand trial at The Hague.


Serbia and the world

Council of Europe's Secretary General Walter Schwimmer criticized Belgrade's refusal to extradite Milošević on the 24 January. "We have offered them many possibilities of assistance, but ... one of the conditions for membership for the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is full co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague. We made this very clear."

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said that the USA was also "looking for Yugoslavia to co-operate with the tribunal, as other states in the region are doing and as all the members of the United Nations are obligated to do" (AP).

Yugoslavia applied for membership of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on Tuesday. It will be considered by the body's ruling General Council on 8 February, and is likely to progress without difficulties.

Yugoslavia restored diplomatic relations with Albania through and exchange of notes on 17 January. Both governments said they saw the step as a move towards greater regional co-operation and stability.


And in other news...

  • Serbian state security chief Rade Marković resigned on Thursday 25 January. Demands for his removal from office almost precipitated a crisis in the DOS coalition in the early days after Milošević's departure. According to the news agency Beta, Marković offered his resignation to Koštunica in October but was told to remain until the new Serbian government was formed.
  • During her visit to Belgrade, Carla Del Ponte also told relatives of RTS employees killed in a NATO air-strike that the Milošević regime had been informed of the attack on the RTS building before it took place on 23 April 1999. She also brought with her a sealed indictment. Nezavisne Novine, a Bosnian Serb newspaper, reports that this is believed to apply to Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav Šešelj and Borislav Pelević, leader of the Party of Serbian Unity, who is believed by many to be the man most likely to have killed Serbian warlord Arkan.
  • In one of his last acts in office, US President Bill Clinton authorised the lifting of an "outer wall" of US sanctions against Yugoslavia. The move opens the door to international lending to Belgrade and investment in Serbia. Measures targeting specific members of the Milošević regime or those otherwise implicated in political repression were left in place.
  • The Alliance of Serbian Roma Societies published a list of 900 Roma reported killed and missing in Kosovo over the past two years.

Eleanor Pritchard, 26 January 2001

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