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Belgrade Sends Hague Mixed Signals

Serbia still appears undecided about cooperation with the tribunal
By IWPR

Serbia's arrest and extradition of Bosnian Serb Milomir Stakic last week strongly suggested that it was finally prepared to cooperate with the tribunal. Observers felt it confirmed the republic's justice minister, Vladan Batic, was serious when two days before, during a visit to The Hague, he said, "Serbia will no longer be a collection centre for war criminals from other countries."


Stakic was named in a sealed indictment, charged with genocide in the Prijedor region of north west Bosnia.


Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte described Stakic's transfer to The Hague as "the first concrete sign of cooperation".


Stakic's arrest was the first in Belgrade of an individual named in a sealed indictment. Del Ponte was quick to say she hoped it would not be the last.


But during their visit to The Hague, Batic and Yugoslav minister of justice Momcilo Grubac said the extradition of Yugoslav citizens could not go ahead until a law on cooperation with the tribunal was formally adopted - a move Del Ponte views as a stalling tactic.


During a visit to Washington last week, Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic ruled out Milosevic's extradition in the foreseeable future and even threw doubt on whether the former president would be arrested by March 31 - the deadline set by the Americans.


Belgrade is now arguing that tribunal statutes do not require all indicted war crimes suspects to go on trial at The Hague.


On returning from The Hague, Grubac is understood to have said that where war crimes suspects are also accused of civil crimes domestic trials take precedence over Hague extradition requests.


The tribunal exercises priority over criminal prosecutions "only if the national court is either not conducting the case or is blatantly mishandling the case," Grubac said. "Where such doubt existed, The Hague could justifiably call for extradition and demand to take over the case."


But Article 9 of the tribunal statute is very clear. "The International Tribunal shall have primacy over national courts" and "at any stage of the procedure, the International Tribunal may formally request national courts to defer to the competence of the International Tribunal in accordance with the present Statute and the Rules of Procedure..."


Del Ponte, meanwhile, used the joint news conference with her Yugoslav guests to reveal that two new investigations into possible war crimes by Albanian groups in and around Kosovo from June 1999 to the present day were under way.


In light of these revelations, Tribunal Update asked Batic and Grubac whether they thought any future prosecutions and trials of KLA or UCPMB leaders should be conducted before international judges at the tribunal or local Albanian judges in Pristina?


Both responded without hesitation that such trials should be held at The Hague "because the tribunal has primacy over national courts where war crimes are concerned."


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