Serbian government set to proceed with extraditions to The Hague to meet US aid deadline.


Serbian government set to proceed with extraditions to The Hague to meet US aid deadline.

Serbia: More Extraditions Planned

The Serbian authorities appear set to transfer a new group of suspected war criminals to The Hague in the next few days, amid fears that recent political turbulence would derail the extraditions.

Serbia must transfer the indictees by March 31 to demonstrate its commitment to cooperation with the tribunal and satisfy US government conditions for the delivery of vitally needed aid.

The republic's readiness to proceed with arrests and extraditions was confirmed last week by Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, who said he will not allow the Serbia to plunge into new isolation or for its reforms to be halted: both possible consequences of non-compliance with the US deadline.

While new extraditions look certain, it is still unclear who is to be extradited. Sources close to the Serbian authorities predict they will include close associates of Slobodan Milosevic during the Kosovo campaign, such as Nikola Sainovic, former deputy prime minister; Vlajko Stojiljkovic, former minister of internal affairs; and Dragoljub Ojdanic, Yugoslav army chief of staff at the time.

A number of other indictees - including Major Veselin Sljivancanin, Colonel Mile Mrksic and Captain Miroslav Radic implicated in the destruction of Vukovar - may also find themselves in the Scheveningen detention unit in the next few days.

Fears that further extraditions would be suspended were provoked by the ever-deepening conflict between the two big rivals on the Serbian political scene, Djindjic and Yugoslav president, Vojislav Kostunica.

While Djindjic clearly believes that non-cooperation with the tribunal would be a "catastrophe", Kostunica claims further extraditions to the tribunal will "cause political earthquakes".

He believes the whole issue of The Hague and Serbia's relation with it needs to be defined by a special law before any further co-operation can take place. Such legislation has been unsuccessfully debated in the federal parliament several times in the past year.

There are also allegations that Kostunica's opposition to the extraditions lies at the heart of a political scandal - centred around Serbia's deputy prime minister, Momcilo Perisic - which erupted in the middle of March.

On March 15, Perisic was arrested alongside a US diplomat, John Neighbor, by the Yugoslav army's security service on suspicion that Perisic was passing on state secrets to the American.

IWPR government sources claim that the circumstances of the arrest and command chain suggest that the scandal's main aim was primarily to discredit Djindjic and the Serbian government as it was about to announce new extraditions.

The army, which is under the control of President Kostunica, is deeply opposed to cooperation with the tribunal, as a number of officers feature on the list of alleged war criminals. The extraditions were rumoured to have been originally planned for mid March - a plan effectively skuppered by the Perisic scandal.

Although still unresolved, any fallout from the Perisic affair lasted only a matter of days and fresh plans for the extraditions now appear to have been made.

Although The Hague transfers do now seem certain, it's doubtful that they will comply exactly with US imposed deadline of March 31. While other conditions for America's next batch of aid appear to have been met - including agreements to release Kosovar political prisoners and the end to Serbia's financing of the Army of Republika Srpska - the government has resisted following the US timetable too tightly.

According to circles close to the Belgrade authorities, this is to deflect criticism that it has "sold out" to the West, allegations it suffered following the extradition of Slobodan Milosevic. It is likely, therefore, that The Hague transfers will take place either several days before or several days after the deadline.

Whenever they happen, it may be that these extraditions will be the last. Serbian foreign minister Goran Svilanovic has gone on record to state that in future war crimes indictees will be tried in Serbia.

Daniel Sunter is IWPR's assistant editor in Belgrade

Serbia, Kosovo
Support our journalists