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Extradition Splits Yugoslav Coalition

Even from The Hague Milosevic remains a divisive element in Yugoslav politics
By Zeljko Cvijanovic

The extradition of Milosevic to The Hague represents the Belgrade government's most radical move to date. It has also highlighted the political differences between Yugoslav federal president Vojislav Kostunica and Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic.


The day after the extradition, Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia, DSS, signalled its intention to leave the ruling coalition. The Yugoslav authorities have been gearing up to send Milosevic to The Hague for months, but the decision to actually dispatch him was made by Djindjic.


The Serbian government took over responsibility for the extradition after a week of constitutional wrangling inside the Yugoslav federation.


After failed negotiations with the Montenegrin Socialist People's Party, SNP, who were opposed to extraditing the former president, the federal government rushed through a decree, bypassing the need for parliamentary approval.


This decision was ruled unconstitutional by the federal constitutional court on Thursday but Djindjic's government responded quickly. They set the extradition in motion by citing both the tribunal's precedence over national law and a clause in the republic's constitution suspending any federal decision deemed counter to Serbian interests.


Ironically, the latter provision was introduced by Milosevic in the late Eighties to protect himself from federal law.


To Djindjic's surprise, President Kostunica's cabinet then issued a statement saying that he had been unaware of the extradition order.


Djindjic claimed that he had informed Kostunica of his government's intentions earlier in the week. He said he had told him that he would be faced with two options if the federal decree for Milosevic's extradition was annulled: either to resign or overrule the Yugoslav government decision.


The premier told the president that failure to cooperate with The Hague would have disastrous consequences for the country. Kostunica replied by warning Djindjic's government that they would be violating the constitution if they went ahead with the extradition.


Kostunica even went so far as to accuse Djindjic of "lawlessness".


His anger is understandable in light of the fact that Milosevic's arrest could be extremely damaging for him.


Already, he has been accused of betrayal both by those for and against the extradition. "He certainly won't be our head of state after what's happened," said Milosevic supporters on Thursday night.


But the president is also under fire from his partners in the ruling DOS coalition who accuse him of obstruction and compromise. "This is the end of the coalition," said SNP leader Predrag Bulatovic on hearing the extradition had gone ahead. "There is no discussion with the DOS any more after this."


The prime minister, meanwhile, appears to be facing resistance to his extradition policy in some quarters of the security forces.


According to one report which reached IWPR, a special police unit had been ordered to arrest one of its chiefs, Milorad Vlemek Legija, indicted by The Hague for crimes committed in Kosovo. The same source says the unit disobeyed orders, enabling him to quit the country.


More arrests though are sure to follow. There are unconfirmed reports that several more Hague indictees were detained on Thursday. These inlcude Milan Martic, former president of the Croatian Serb breakaway republic of Krajina and former Krajina army commander Mile Mrksic.


Internationally, Yugoslavia's image has benefited vastly from the extradition of its former president. Quite what the effect will be domestically remains to be seen.


Zeljko Cvijanovic is a regular contributor for Sarajevo daily Dani


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