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Serbia: US Cash Delivers Serious Hague Cooperation

Unblocking of American aid prompts Yugoslavia to begin concrete cooperation with The Hague.
By Zeljko Cvijanovic

Belgrade last week opened its secret archives to Hague investigators and detained a war crimes suspect after Washington released long-promised financial aid.


Zoran Zivkovic, federal minister of police and a member of the National Council for Cooperation with The Hague tribunal, announced last Friday that the council had granted 13 or 14 out of 18 specific archive requests made by the war crimes court.


He said that the council would only stop short at granting requests for investigators to enter the archives themselves, a right which "they don't have in any other country and will not be granted here".


Belgrade sources speculate that access to the archives may become vital for Hague prosecutors to establish the guilt of Slobodan Milosevic, whose trial is not going very well according to some observers.


The day after the archives decision was made, Serbian police arrested Ranko Cesic, a Bosnian Serb wanted by the tribunal for killings and acts of bestial cruelty against Bosnian Croats and Muslims held at the notorious Luka concentration camp near the north-eastern Bosnian town of Brcko in 1992.


The developments came after Washington's move last Tuesday to release financial aid, which it had withheld from Serbia for not meeting the tribunal's demand for the opening of its archives and the arrest of 24 Yugoslav indictees by a March 31 deadline.


The US decision - which came after a meeting in Washington between US Secretary of State Colin Powell and Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic - prompted concern from Human Rights Watch and some congressional and senate representatives that the administration was giving Serbs far too much carrot and not enough stick.


But Florence Hartmann, spokeswoman for The Hague chief prosecutor, said although the court was unhappy with Serbian reluctance to assist with its investigations, Belgrade had presented Powell with "a precise plan according to which cooperation should unfold".


In addition to unblocking promised financial aid, the US has also offered to pave the way for Yugoslavia's membership of international monetary institutions, unfreeze its accounts in America and establish normal trade relations.


An IWPR source close to the Serbian government said that in exchange Belgrade would be expected to show concrete signs of greater cooperation with The Hague by the summer, when Congress is scheduled to consider the provision of Yugoslav aid for 2003.


The US last year pledged to grant Belgrade a 115 million dollar assistance package for 2002, but blocked the first 40 million dollar instalment when Belgrade failed to meet the March 31 deadline.


In April, the Yugoslav parliament finally adopted a long awaited law on cooperation with The Hague. Soon after, six Yugoslav indictees voluntarily surrendered to the tribunal, aware that they would no longer enjoy the protection of the authorities. Washington considered these to be positive enough developments to release its aid.


Washington's leniency towards Belgrade may also be connected with its longer-term aim to wind up the former Yugoslav tribunal - of which it is a major funder - and that for Rwanda over the next few years.


Yugoslav cooperation with The Hague is essential if the tribunal is to complete its work by 2007 or 2008 - target dates mentioned by US ambassador-at-large for war crimes Pierre Richard Prosper during his March testimony to the House International Relations Committee.


Sources close to the Serbian authorities believe the US has also been lenient because it fears that an overly tough approach may weaken the reformist government of Zoran Djindjic, who supports cooperation with The Hague and the international community.


This may also explain why Djindjic was summoned to Washington even though, as Serbian prime minister, foreign policy is not part of his constitutional remit.


Although it appears that the US and Yugoslavia are entering a true partnership phase, certain elements in America - who opposed the aid decision - insist that all future financial assistance should be made similarly conditional.


Joseph Biden, the influential chairman of the US Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, has already started a campaign to make next year's aid dependent on further Yugoslav concessions.


At the beginning of May, he urged Belgrade to curtail its "negative influence" in Kosovo and Republika Srpska, end the ethnic division of Kosovska Mitrovica and publicly apologise for the conduct of the Serbs during the wars of the last decade.


With such influential opposition in the US, it is vital for Powell that Belgrade does not let him down, a federal government source told IWPR. "If we do not meet this year's conditions, next year's requirements could be far harsher," he said.


Yugoslav foreign minister Goran Svilanovic acknowledged that the unblocking of aid does not mean that Washington is happy with Belgrade's conduct. "A lot of work still needs to be done (to satisfy) the Congress and the Senate, since there are many there who are not happy with (the US) decision," he said.


Washington's latest move is unprecedented and shows a level of trust not seen before in the last ten years. It is now down to Belgrade to respond in kind. If, however, it "takes the money and runs", slackening off in its level of cooperation, the carrot of financial could disappear entirely, to be replaced by an even bigger stick.


Zeljko Cvijanovic is editor in chief of the Belgrade weekly BlicNews.