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American Milosevic Ultimatum

Belgrade could pay a heavy financial penalty if it doesn't arrest Milosevic within the next few weeks
By Zeljko Cvijanovic

Washington is urging Belgrade to arrest and imprison Slobodan Milosevic by the end of this month or risk losing out on vital American financial aid.

The call was among a list of demands American ambassador to Belgrade, William Montgomery, delivered to Yugoslav and Serbian leaders last week.

The conditions put flesh on the recent US Congress ultimatum threatening to renege on around $100 million of aid unless Yugoslavia begins cooperating with the Hague tribunal by March 31.

In addition to the imprisonment of Milosevic, America is demanding President Kostunica publicly back the tribunal and agree to extradite war crime suspects, including indicted Bosnian Serbs sheltering in Yugoslavia.

Washington also wants the release of Albanians suspected and charged with terrorism; a purge of Milosevic loyalists serving in the new administration; and an end to Yugoslav support for both Bosnian Serb extremists and the Republika Srpska army.

Belgrade cannot afford to ignore the demands. It would lose out on US aid and find it hard to gain access to international financial institutions. A Western donors conference scheduled for May and American help in resolving the crisis in southern Serbia could also be put at risk.

The Serbian government has yet to issue a formal response to the list of demands, but IWPR sources suggest the authorities are relieved the Americans have not insisted on Milosevic being handed over to the Hague - something many in Belgrade refuse to countenance.

"Washington's demands are related to the arrest and imprisonment of Milosevic only, not his extradition to the Hague, " an official from the ruling Serbian coalition told IWPR. The apparent American position, should it prove to be true, contradicts the tribunal's insistence on Milosevic being tried in The Hague.

The Serbian government led by Zoran Djindic - seen by the international community as more cooperative than Kostunica - is meanwhile forging ahead with assembling evidence against Milosevic.

While the arrest of former secret police chief Rade Markovic failed to link Milosevic and his wife Mira Markovic to political assassinations over the last few years, the setback has not deterred the Serbian authorities.

Indeed, according to IWPR sources, Djindjic persuaded Hague indictee Blagoje Simic to give himself up voluntarily to the Hague this week. The former mayor of Samac in Bosnia, Simic is accused of directing the ethnic cleansing of the town in 1992.

The same sources have confirmed that over the next week or so around 20 of Milosevic's close associates, including Nikola Sainovic, Milovan Bojic and Branislav Ivkovic, are likely to be interrogated and possibly arrested.

The hope is that one of them will provide vital testimony against Milosevic.The new Yugoslav ambassador to Washington Milan St Protic said last week the authorities would need another ten days to garner sufficient evidence to arrest the former president - effectively meeting the US end of March deadline.

The greatest obstacle to Milosevic's detention, it seems, are not his supporters, who now form a generally feeble parliamentary opposition, but the federal government of President Kostunica.

Kostunica admonished Protic for his recent remarks, saying they were not consistent with the official stand of the Yugoslav government.

Other than Kostunica, one of the most vocal opponents of Milosevic's arrest is the ruling federal coalition member, the Montenegrin Socialist People's Party, SNP, a former ally of the deposed Yugoslav leader. The SNP, which opposes calls for Montenegro's separation from Serbia, fears his detention would undermine its prospects in elections next month.

Some suspect that this is why the federal authorities are apparently delaying the implementation of laws governing cooperation with the international tribunal. They recently announced the legislation would not be ready for four to six months.

But this procrastination is potentially ruinous for Serbia. Belgrade experts predict that without American aid and other financial assistance, the country faces total economic collapse.

Djindjic's government would be unable to survive such a blow, so one can expect that he will do his utmost to fulfill the American demand for Milosevic's arrest and imprisonment. The Serbian prime minister believes his detention is a matter for Serbia's judiciary and police, not their federal counterparts.

Zeljko Cvijanovic is a regular IWPR contributor