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Briefly Noted

By Emir Suljagic and Stacy Sullivan in The Hague (TU 317, 09-13 June 2003)
By IWPR

When Serbian police arrested Colonel Veselin Sljivancanin in his Belgrade apartment last week, it seemed for a brief moment that everyone was happy.


Sljivancanin, a former JNA officer, was indicted by The Hague for his role the massacre of hospital patients in Vukovar in November 1991, after the Croatian town fell to Serb forces.


He has been in hiding for several years, but on June 5 – his 50th birthday - Serbian police suspected rightly that the colonel might celebrate the day with his family.


After a standoff that lasted several hours and provoked the worst violence Belgrade had seen in many months, the tribunal got one of its longest sought fugitives.


The arrest was timed felicitously, three days before the United States deadline to certify whether Belgrade was complying with the war crimes tribunal.


Almost immediately thereafter, US Secretary of State Colin Powell announced that Serbia-Montenegro would indeed be eligible for a new aid package.


Serbia’s politicians were thrilled. The ruling DOS coalition chief whip in the Serbian parliament, Bojan Pajtic, declared triumphantly that Serbia and Montenegro had "no further obligations to the Hague tribunal".


Although the US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher was quick to say that "US expects further action", a veiled reference to the arrest of Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic, Belgrade was essentially given a reprieve until the next aid deadline.


As soon as the aid package was approved, Serbian minister of interior Dusan Mihajlovic claimed that Mladic was in fact not in Serbia, and that therefore he could not be arrested. Tribunal officials, however, believe otherwise and suggested the Serbian police might want to visit Mladic's home next March 12 - Mladic’s birthday.


BELGRADE TOLD TO HAND OVER DOCUMENTS


The judges in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic issued a ruling last week ordering the government of Serbia and Montenegro to release transcripts of meetings from Yugoslavia’s supreme defence counsel.


Prosecutors believe that the documents will show Milosevic had crucial influence over this body, which oversaw the Yugoslav military, and have been trying to get their hands on the transcripts for nearly a year.


The government of Serbia and Montenegro has repeatedly claimed that it could not release the documents on the grounds that it would jeopardise the country’s national interests.


Those national interests are likely to have nothing to do with the Milosevic case. Tribunal insiders say Belgrade wants to prevent the transcripts from becoming public for fear they might be used by Bosnia in its genocide case against Serbia and Montenegro before the International Court of Justice, which is also based in The Hague.


The judges apparently had little sympathy. They said Serbia and Montenegro had not given "an acceptable reason" for its failure to cooperate with the court and ordered the government to do so within 30 days.


BAD GUYS BEWARE


Luis Moreno-Ocampo, a crusading human rights lawyer best known for prosecuting the top military commanders in Argentina’s Dirty War in the 1980s, was sworn in as the chief prosecutor for the newly created International Criminal Court this week.


The court seeks to try perpetrators of the most serious offences – crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes.


When asked who the ICC might put on trial first, Moreno-Ocampo said he couldn’t say, “Today is my first day. As of today I have no problem with any country in the world.”


When asked if that included the United States, which has not recognised the court and has signed 37 immunity pacts with primarily poor, small countries that are dependent on Washington for aid, Moreno-Ocampo again chose not to answer.


That question was handed to the president of the Assembly of States Parties to the court, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein of Jordan, who called the US attempt to undermine the court’s authority “regrettable”.


Emir Suljagic is an IWPR reporter in The Hague. Stacy Sullivan is the IWPR project manager in The Hague.


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