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REGIONAL REPORT:

The Serbian premier is trying to increase the financial and political price of cooperation with The Hague
By Zeljko Cvijanovic

Serbia: Djindjic Haggles Over Hague Cooperation


Zoran Djindjic's apparent eagerness to cooperate with The Hague tribunal appeared to be thrown into question earlier this week, when he warned that the arrest of former Bosnian Serb military commander, Ratko Mladic, could trigger internal conflict in Serbia. Appearances, though, can be deceptive.


In an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel, the Serbian prime minister said that civil war was a possibility given the presence in Serbia of 200,000 refugees from Bosnia "many of which are still armed".


Djindjic added that the on-going trial at The Hague of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic was a "circus" and that he failed to see "what kind of explanation he could offer for the extradition of other people". The tribunal had " lost all credibility".


But IWPR sources close to Djindjic's government claim the comments are part of a wider strategy to bring pressure on the international community and his key political rival, Yugoslav president Vojislav Kostunica.


Djindjic has promised to extradite several war crimes suspects, including Mladic, by March 31. IWPR sources say the prime minister hopes to use the remaining weeks before the deadline to ratchet up the financial and political price for delivery.


Djindjic is dissatisfied with assistance approved so far by the West and calculates that raising fears of a new conflict in the region could prompt it to increase the amount of pledged funds and the speed at which it's handed over.


The premier's circle believe the Serbian public will accept the extradition of Mladic without too much protest if the government were able secure sufficient Western cash to keep people in jobs.


Djindjic told Der Spiegel he was unhappy with the pace at which foreign aid was being delivered, especially that part promised by the European Union, warning that it could cause social unrest.


He said that out of the 1.3 billion US dollars of immediate assistance it was promised last year, Serbia has so far received only 500 million.


"Time bombs have been set off here that could hinder the reforms of our democratic government," Djindjic said. "Fifty thousands workers from Bor ( mostly miners protesting over threats to close the mine) are preparing to march to Belgrade."


But the economic situation is not the only thing behind Djindjic's alarmist comments.


The prime minister hopes they will prompt Western diplomats to exert additional pressure on Kostunica to ensure the federal government speeds up the process of adopting a law on cooperation with the tribunal.


Anti-Hague feeling in Serbia has been fuelled by the start of the Milosevic trial - which makes Djindjic's position extremely difficult.


The premier is committed to extradition, but is worried that his image at home may suffer if he sends war crimes suspects to The Hague without the backing of federal legislation sanctioning such transfers.


Djindjic is likely to go head go ahead with deportations whether a federal cooperation law is adopted or not. It would just give him a little more political breathing space.


A law on tribunal cooperation came before the Yugoslav parliament several times last year, but failed to reach the statute books due to disagreements with Montenegrin deputies and opposition from the constitutional court.


Last week, Kostunica agreed to the formation of a special group of legal experts to draft a new law, which is supposed to be adopted by the federal assembly by mid-March at the latest. The body - which includes representatives from the Yugoslav government, the president's office and the ruling coalition in Serbia - has proposed three legislative options.


Kostunica's representatives want the law to instruct the Serbian parliament to take full responsibility for extraditions. Djindjic's people say the Yugoslav assembly should make such decisions. The former federal justice minister, Momcilo Grubac, has offered a compromise solution, based on the two authorities sharing responsibility for transfers to The Hague.


IWPR source say the latter option is the more likely, but all the signs are that the law will not be adopted anytime soon. One of the members of the group debating the new legislation, Vesna Rakic Vodinelic, admitted on Belgrade Radio B92 on Sunday that, "We lack sufficient political will for the adoption of this law".


Previous remarks by officials close to Djindjic clearly indicate the prime minister has opted for cooperation regardless. Cedomir Jovanovic, the deputy leader of Djindjic's Democratic Party, said last Friday that if no law was adopted by March 31, extraditions would go ahead under the Serbian government decree used to despatch Milosevic.


Significantly, Jovanovic said the Serbian government would also handle the extraditions of army officers who are presently under the jurisdiction of the federal military authorities, loyal to Kostunica.


Zeljko Cvijanovic is editor in chief of Belgrade weekly Blic News.


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