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REGIONAL REPORT: Serbian Indictees to Surrender

The Yugoslav authorities succeed in persuading indictees to surrender voluntarily to the tribunal in order to minimise the danger of a popular backlash.
By Zeljko Cvijanovic

The Belgrade authorities have confirmed that a number of war crimes suspects have agreed to give themselves up, after apparently holding out the prospect of favourable treatment from The Hague.

The federal justice ministry revealed Tuesday that six indictees, including several former Yugoslav army officers, are willing to surrender voluntarily. IWPR sources suggested this came after the authorities said they would try to secure pre-trial releases for them.

Belgrade officials, who are reluctant to arrest and extradite the suspects as this would prove hugely unpopular, have over the last few days been working hard to persuade them to turn themselves into The Hague.

There has been little support for the tribunal in Serbia - and there will be even less so now following last week's suicide by one indictee, former interior minister Vlajko Stojiljkovic, who shot himself after parliament passed a law on cooperation with the international court.

A federal justice ministry aide, Nebojsa Sakic, said on Monday that it was "in the interest of the state" that suspects go willingly to The Hague to avoid raising tensions. It issued a Monday deadline for them to do so and then extended it to midnight.

The deadline follows the passage of the law on cooperation with the tribunal that the federal assembly adopted in mid-April. It was the fruit of a long-awaited compromise between the Serbian prime minister, Zoran Djindjic, and the Yugoslav president, Vojislav Kostunica.

Kostunica earlier opposed cooperation and most indictees looked to him to safeguard them from The Hague. But after the law was blocked last June and again this May, the US made release of a 115 million dollar aid package conditional on cooperation with the tribunal.

Washington also threatened to withdraw its support for Serbia in international financial institutions, potentially costing the country billions of dollars.

The US deadline for extradition expired on March 31 amid continuing squabbles between Djindjic and Kostunica. But sustained pressure from Washington resulted in the cooperation legislation being passed a few days later. The indictees then knew they could no longer count on political protection.

The law empowers the federal justice ministry to pass indictments to the district court of Belgrade, which will then issue an arrest order to the police. After that, the indictees will be sent to The Hague.

Belgrade has negotiated voluntary surrender with 10 of the

23 Yugoslav and Serbian suspects wanted by The Hague. And an IWPR source in the federal government claimed the authorities have held secret discussions with tribunal officials over the treatment the indictees might expect in The Netherlands.

The source said up to 10 indictees might leave for The Hague immediately if they were allowed to return home until their case came up in court. There has been much speculation in Belgrade that a deal may have been agreed. But the tribunal spokesman Jim Landale denied this, saying every indictee must apply to a tribunal judge for pre-trial release.

Uncertainty over this issue may explain why government negotiations with the indictees continued after the Monday deadline.

The federal ministry Tuesday issued a list of those whose surrender has been arranged. They are Dragoljub Ojdanic, the former Yugoslav army, JNA, chief of staff, accused of crimes in Kosovo; Milan Martic, the former leader of the Croatian Serbs, accused of shelling Zagreb; Mile Mrksic, former JNA general accused of crimes in Vukovar; Nikola Sainovic, former federal deputy premier accused of crimes in Kosovo; Vladimir Kovacevic, JNA commander accused for crimes in Dubrovnik; and Momcilo Gruban, accused of crimes against Bosniaks in the Prijedor area of north-west Bosnia.

Until yesterday, only two suspects, Ojdanic and Gruban, had confirmed they would be willing to surrender. The former told Radio Uzice on Monday he would prove his innocence at The Hague. "I do not consider this surrender," he said. "I am taking advantage of legislation

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