Belgrade Prepares Serbs for Milosevic Extradition

As more and more evidence of Kosovo atrocities turns up, Serbs are becoming increasingly indifferent to the fate of their former president.

Belgrade Prepares Serbs for Milosevic Extradition

As more and more evidence of Kosovo atrocities turns up, Serbs are becoming increasingly indifferent to the fate of their former president.

The night before the Yugoslav government adopted a draft law on cooperation with the international tribunal in The Hague, the interior ministry released a shocking video on Serbian TV showing the exhumation of a reported mass grave site in Batajnica near Belgrade.

The ten-minute film broadcast on June 13 showed human bones and skulls, believed to be those of Kosovo Albanians, being carefully removed from the ground. Hague investigators are said to be in Batajnica, monitoring the exhumation.

Many analysts from Belgrade think the aim of the ruling DOS coalition in showing the programme is to rally support from the Serbian public over cooperation with the war crimes tribunal, which effectively means the extradition of Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague

His extradition is a necessary precondition for Serbia to receive any further international aid.

The federal parliament will have to pass the necessary legislation before a donor's conference scheduled for June 29, but Montenegrin deputies - former Milosevic allies - will first have to be persuaded to support the move.

Analysts in Belgrade say that Kostunica has changed his stance towards The Hague ever since his visit to Washington a month ago. Even he is no longer prepared to sacrifice the welfare of the country for Milosevic's sake.

Evidence of atrocities in Kosovo was brought to the public's attention for the first time a month ago. The Timocka Criminal Review, a local newspaper in Kladovo, eastern Serbia, ran an article about the discovery of a freezer lorry containing corpses of Kosovo Albanians which was pulled out of the Danube in April 1999.

However, the Serbian interior ministry, which was at that time under the control of Milosevic, blocked further investigation. The whole case was pronounced a state secret.

Serbian media have attempted to locate the whereabouts of the corpses. The Belgrade daily Vreme was first to mention Batajnica as a possibility. The existence of this site was officially confirmed this week by the Serbian interior minister, Dusan Mihajlovic.

"Eighty-three corpses were discovered, including three heads," a DOS source told IWPR. "Amongst the victims were two small children."

Other reports have led to speculation that victims may still have been alive when thrown inside the lorry.

The DOS source says that a mass grave containing 800 bodies transported from Kosovo is also located at the Batajnica location, a secluded plot of land, a police training compound, which lies hidden some three hundred meters away from a main road.

When an IWPR journalist visited the compound he was ordered off the premises by a guard. "You must not stay here, it's forbidden! Leave at once," he shouted.

The inhabitants of nearby villages say they were unaware of the alleged cover-up operation, and hadn't noticed anything unusual.

"I heard about it on TV," said one middle-aged woman nervously turning her head towards the entrance of the compound. She said she was unaware of anything strange going on at the time the bodies were allegedly dumped there, "I feel uneasy today when I am aware that I live near a mass grave".

News has also been leaked to the public of further mass graves. IWPR was told that one of these was on the outskirts of Belgrade but had been tarmacked over, a fact confirmed by the DOS source. "The location is under investigation so there are no further details available," he said.

Milosevic has been described as showing signs of distress from the moment news broke about the corpses in the lorry. According to sources in Belgrade's Central Prison where he is currently being detained, his blood pressure remains high.

With good reason as reports are starting to link him directly with the atrocities. Police have confirmed a story in the Belgrade weekly Nedeljni Telegraf that the decision concerning the Kosovo cover-up was made at the end of March 1999, during an official meeting in Milosevic's residence, Beli dvor.

Vlajko Stojiljkovic, then Serbian police minister, Vlastimir Djordjevic, former head of the state security, Obrad Stevanovic, ex-chief of police, and representatives of Yugoslav army, were also present, say the reports.

Slobodan Milosevic allegedly ordered the remains of the victims to be destroyed and spoke of his fears of their discovery leading to a Hague investigation.

As fresh evidence of atrocities is presented to the Serbian public, the authorities are going to find it easier to convince them of the need to cooperate with The Hague. People, it seems, are getting more and more indifferent to the fate of their former president.

Ivan Nikolic is a regular IWPR contributor

Serbia, Kosovo
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