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Milosevic Arrest

Hague not expecting Milosevic's extradition any time soon

World leaders are calling for Slobodan Milosevic, arrested in Belgrade at the weekend, to answer for alleged war crimes in the former Yugoslavia.

From the United States to Japan, Europe to Canada, praise for Belgrade's actions was mixed with warnings that justice would not be served until Milosevic and his former associates face tribunal indictments for crimes against humanity in Kosovo and charges relating to crimes in Bosnia and Croatia.

While welcoming international praise for its "brave move", Belgrade has so far been reluctant to describe Milosevic's arrest as a "first step to the Hague".

For now, at least publicly, the Yugoslav and Serbian authorities have shown no intention of heading down that road. It seems clear they will not do so unless forced. When pressed into commenting on The Hague they point to two obstacles preventing Milosevic's transfer.

The first relates to a constitutional ban on the extradition of Yugoslav citizens to foreign courts. The new government has demonstrated its intention to remove this obstacle by adopting a law on cooperation with the tribunal, which would allow for Milosevic's transfer to The Hague.

The end of March was initially mooted as the date for presentation of draft legislation, but Belgrade is now saying that it cannot go before the federal parliament until after the elections in Montenegro, scheduled for April 22.

A "very complex process" of negotiation and amendment would then inevitably follow.

But uncertainty reigns over the fate of the Yugoslav assembly itself. No one can be sure for how long the federation will survive should the pro-independence lobby secure a clear victory in the Montenegro poll.

The second obstacle cited by Belgrade are the criminal proceedings now underway against Milosevic. The former federal president is accused of abuse of power, corruption and resisting arrest.

Belgrade officials argue Milosevic must answer to domestic justice for the rule of law to return to Serbia. They argue a Belgrade trial would discredit him and win public backing for his extradition to The Hague.

But the investigation into his alleged crimes in Serbia has only just got underway. Officials there say it could take seven months to complete his indictment. A long and complicated trial would then follow, involving numerous witnesses, experts and volumes of material evidence - the whole process could take years.

What's more Belgrade has not ruled out including war crimes in the indictment. The Serbian prime minister, Zoran Djindjic, has appealed on several occasions for Serbia to be "given the chance" to try Milosevic for war crimes at home - and that if it can be demonstrated after some months that the courts are unable to deal satisfactorily with such charges, he would then be extradited.

Aleksandar Popovic, deputy head of Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia, appealed on April 1 to the "good will of the international community" to allow for Milosevic to "be tried in Belgrade on all charges - both corruption and war crimes". He warned extradition to The Hague would provide Milosevic with the opportunity to cast himself as a martyr.

Despite the numerous obstacles, the tribunal remains convinced Milosevic will be in the UN detention unit by the end of the year.

Provided the tribunal is persuaded the Belgrade trial and the adoption of the law on cooperation are moving along apace, it appears officials would be prepared to wait several months for Milosevic's hand-over.

But the tribunal does not rule out an alternative, should it become apparent the Serbian judiciary needs much longer. Namely, that Milosevic be extradited to The Hague to enter a plea on the Kosovo and other possible indictments.

Then, depending on the duration of The Hague's pre-hearing procedure, the court would be prepared to hand him back temporarily to the Serbian judiciary to face charges in Belgrade.

If Serbia does not transfer Milosevic to The Hague, then it would be next to impossible to force Croatia to hand over army generals who could soon face war crimes indictments.

Likewise, Sarajevo could object to surrendering Bosniak political and military leaders currently under investigation for crimes against Bosnian Serbs and Croats. And Pristina might refuse to arrest and extradite certain Kosovo Liberation Army leaders suspected of crimes against non-Albanians.

The tribunal can only survive if all states under its jurisdiction fulfil their obligations in the same way.

Even Milosevic's lawyer, Toma Fila, spoke on the importance of such "equal treatment". In an interview with the Sense news agency on October 4, the day before Milosevic lost his hold on power, Fila said talk of granting him immunity from prosecution to secure a peaceful hand over of power was a bad idea as this would means "the end of the tribunal".

"If something like that happened, all defence counsels, including me would request the release of our clients on the grounds that the tribunal's statute had been violated," he said.

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