Milosevic On Trial

Many in Serbia want Milosevic to pay for the crimes he committed against the Serbian people

Milosevic On Trial

Many in Serbia want Milosevic to pay for the crimes he committed against the Serbian people

There are growing calls within Serbia for Slobodan Milosevic to be prosecuted for corruption and electoral fraud during his 13-year reign.

For the time being, however, Belgrade is unwilling to countenance the extradition of the former president to The Hague to face war crimes charges.

The leaders of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, DOS, last week insisted Milosevic should face trial for crimes committed in Serbia. According to the Washington Post, Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica told foreign diplomats in Belgrade that his predecessor may be charged with "illegal activities". Kostunica would not be more specific, but corruption and electoral fraud seem the most likely charges.

The motives behind the DOS calls for a Milosevic trial are largely political. The former president is still holed up in his Belgrade residence and continues to control the Socialist Party of Serbia, SPS, the republican parliament as well as sections of the police, military and paramilitary units.

Should he be tried, the majority of DOS leaders believe Milosevic's last remaining strongholds, which have successfully blocked the formation of a new government for two weeks now, would finally be crushed.

The international community, crucial to a Yugoslav economic recovery, is demanding Milosevic's removal from political life - something a trial would deliver. Last but by no means least, if Milosevic and his associates are successfully prosecuted, the black market chain operated by his son Marko would be severed.

The international community strongly backs the idea of a trial. Data relating to Milosevic's alleged illegal activities has poured out in a series of leaks over the last few days.

Last weekend, during a meeting with European Union leaders in Biarritz, Kostunica was given information relating to $57 million frozen in Swiss bank accounts belonging to Milosevic associates, including Serbian President Milan Milutinovic and former Defence Minister General Dragoljub Ojdanic.

The French magazine Intelligence World, meanwhile, quoted United States intelligence sources as saying Milosevic had "requested as one of the key guarantees for his stepping down that he should be allowed free access to considerable financial wealth secretly held in Cyprus, Lebanon, China, South Africa."

Germany's intelligence service, BND, claimed there was well-founded evidence that Milosevic and his clan are involved in organised crime, such as drugs trafficking and money laundering.

The German daily newspaper Bild cited documents claiming that Milosevic and his son had accumulated hundreds of millions of dollars through organised crime - money now allegedly held in bank accounts in Cyprus, Switzerland, Russia, China, Greece, South Africa and Lebanon.

BND claims some 60 Milosevic cronies control the Serbian economy, including Speaker of the Serbian parliament Dragan Tomic, Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic and former energy minister Dragan Kostic.

This avalanche of information has driven some members of Milosevic's own SPS to call for the corrupt to be punished. "There can be no forgiveness for those who've acquired property, money, private firms at the expense of people's suffering and misery," said SPS official Borivoje Drakulovic.

But it remains unclear whether Milosevic will be tried in Serbia for corruption or war crimes.

Belgrade judge Bozidar Prelevic, who was sacked by the Milosevic government last year, said the former president should be tried for a series of grave offences, including incitement to commit genocide and war crimes and inciting racial and religious hatred. "The only laws Milosevic did not manage to break are Newton's laws of physics," he said.

But of all the DOS politicians, only Zarko Korac, the leader of the relatively un-influential Social Democratic Union, has publicly called for Milosevic to be held responsible for crimes committed during the Yugoslav conflict. "We in Serbia must say who our war criminals are and if they are among us," Korac said.

The majority of DOS leaders have fallen behind Kostunica's position - The Hague "is not a priority".

Likewise, the international community believes Kostunica's position is still too weak to handle the public opposition extradition of Milosevic would provoke. Bodo Hombach, the co-ordinator for the Stability Pact, said it would "be fatal" to burden Kostunica with The Hague. The issue was "postponed, not forgotten".

Even Tribunal Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte indicated that she would temporarily refrain from demanding Milosevic's extradition. "I shall wait, but not forever," she said.

Last week del Ponte wrote to Kostunica asking for a meeting to discuss "problems of overall cooperation of Belgrade with the tribunal and other questions concerning the work of the prosecution." She is still waiting for an answer.

Kostunica did admit in Biarritz, however, that co-operation with the war crimes court was an international legal obligation, accepted by Milosevic himself as a signatory of the Dayton Agreement.

The Hague has given out contradictory signals over the prospect of a war crimes trial in Serbia. A spokesman for the chief prosecutor, Dominique Raymond, told the Swiss weekly L'Hebdo (The Weekly) jurisdiction would depend on future talks between del Ponte and Kostunica.

On Wednesday, however, tribunal spokesman Jim Landale said they would insist on a trial at The Hague.

"Nothing would change in that respect, even if Milosevic were indicted in Serbia of 'ordinary', instead of war crimes," he said. "In that case, the tribunal could refer to the primacy granted to it in relation to the national courts by the UN Security Council."

A final answer may come out of the proposed talks between del Ponte and Kostunica. Until then, despite the fact that many are calling for the prosecution of Milosevic, there is no consensus on what he should be charged with or where his trial should take place.

A trial in Serbia, with the co-operation of the tribunal, could have several advantages for the country - it would remove the need to extradite Milosevic, and could broaden the charge sheet to include corruption, something which would secure almost universal support from the Serbian public.

Bosnia's experience demonstrates limited public interest in goings on at The Hague. A trial in Belgrade would ensure maximum publicity and force Serbs to confront the crimes committed in their name.

Zeljko Cvijanovic is a regular IWPR contributor

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