COURTSIDE: Sainovic and Ojdanic Provisional Release Case

Arguments over Belgrade’s cooperation with tribunal dominate court discussion.

COURTSIDE: Sainovic and Ojdanic Provisional Release Case

Arguments over Belgrade’s cooperation with tribunal dominate court discussion.

In spite of fierce opposition by Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, the trial chamber last week granted provisional release to Nikola Sainovic and Dragoljub Ojdanic. They remain in detention pending an appeal.

The request of the two men, who are co-accused with Slobodan Milosevic over crimes in Kosovo and who voluntarily surrendered two months ago, was dominated by discussion on the degree of cooperation between Belgrade and The Hague.

Contrary arguments were put forward by Del Ponte and Nikola Sarkic, Yugoslavia’s assistant justice minister, who came to The Hague with guarantees from the Yugoslav and Serb governments that the co-accused would be returned to the tribunal for trial if provisional release was granted.

Following the Yugoslav parliament's adoption of the law on cooperation with the tribunal, Sarkic said events had developed "in a positive direction" and that Belgrade had responded to around half the court's requests so far.

Del Ponte replied that there had been "no cooperation so far, and practically none right now".

She questioned the "voluntary" nature of Sainovic and Ojdanic's surrender, three years after first being accused, suggesting they only handed themselves over after being told they faced arrest and extradition to The Hague.

Del Ponte questioned the value of Belgrade's guarantees, stating that the authorities there had arrested and delivered only one accused of "relatively medium rank" - Ranko Cesic, charged with of crimes in Brcko - while still refusing to arrest former president Milan Milutinovic.

Both Sarkic and the defence claimed a positive decision from the judges in this case would improve the tribunal’s image in Yugoslavia, stimulating cooperation and encouraging other suspects to turn themselves in.

Del Ponte rejected these arguments, which she said had no connection to the criminal law procedure conducted in The Hague. She described attempts to put conditions on Serbia's cooperation as "blackmail".

However, the trial chamber, under judges May, Robinson and Kwon, accepted Belgrade's guarantees and approved the two men's provisional release.

Regarding objections to Yugoslavia's "generally unsatisfactory" level of assistance, the judges replied that they were satisfied with the level of cooperation relating to this provisional release.

On the basis of such guarantees, Republika Srpska's former president, Biljana Plavsic, was provisionally released last year, as were two high-ranking former army officers, General Pavle Strugar and Admiral Miodrag Jokic.

Sainovic and Ojdanic will remain in The Hague at least until July 9, when a panel of three appeals chamber judges will hear the prosecution’s case. If the defendants are successful, they will then be free to leave for Belgrade. Otherwise they must await a final ruling by the full appeals chamber.

Mirko Klarin is IWPR senior editor at the war crimes tribunal and editor-in-chief of SENSE News Agency.

Serbia, Kosovo
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