Milosevic arrives in The Hague to face U.N. war crimes charges
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) – Slobodan Milosevic, who lost four wars, impoverished his people and turned Yugoslavia into an international pariah, was delivered to the U.N. war crimes tribunal early Friday to face charges of ”crimes against humanity.” He will be the first former head of state to face the court.
Authorities in Belgrade handed over the former dictator to a tribunal official Thursday, ignoring a court ruling that barred his extradition to stand trial for alleged atrocities in Kosovo.
It was an abrupt end to his battle to evade international justice and the prelude to trial before the tribunal which has indicted him for his alleged role in the Kosovo atrocities that left thousands of ethnic Albanians killed or missing and made refugees of hundreds of thousands more.
”This is the ultimate case,” Jim Landale, spokesman for the tribunal, said after Milosevic arrived. He told CNN that it would be a ”relatively lengthy trial” with complex legal issues.
Milosevic’s transfer could free up generous allotments of financial aid that Washington has linked to his extradition, which came the day before a Belgium conference to discuss those funds.
Praising the move to extradite Milosevic, President Bush called it proof the Balkan nation wants to turn away from ”its tragic past and toward a brighter future.”
The swift move by Serbia – by far the most powerful of Yugoslavia’s remaining two republics – reportedly caught lawyers for Milosevic by surprise.
The state Tanjug news agency said that President Vojislav Kostunica, Milosevic’s successor, was informed of the hand-over only after it happened. His lawyers expressed astonishment of news that their client had been surrendered.
An attorney for Milosevic, Branimir Gugl, accused the authorities of kidnapping his client.
”The process of extradition without the presence of attorneys is tantamount to an abduction,” he said. Another of his lawyers, Toma Fila, said: ”I cannot believe that this has happened.”
As word spread of the transfer, about 3,000 pro-Milosevic supporters gathered in downtown Belgrade. ”Uprising, uprising,” the crowd chanted. Some took swings at television crews covering their demonstration. Several people were badly beaten.
Milosevic’s wife, Mirjana Markovic, briefly appeared at the central prison’s gate but turned back without entering.
Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said there was no choice for Yugoslavia but to surrender Milosevic or face renewed international isolation and a freeze on financial aid, leading to ”unprecedented humiliation.”
Milosevic was apparently flown aboard a Serb aircraft to Tuzla, headquarters for the American peacekeeping operation in Bosnia, where he was transferred to a British aircraft and flown to the The Hague. A U.S. defense official in Washington told the AP that there was no direct American military involvement in Milosevic’s transfer.
Shortly before Landale spoke, reporters saw a police helicopter land inside the prison walls about 1:16 a.m. (7:16 p.m. EDT) while a second helicopter hovered overhead.
Milosevic was expected to be interviewed by tribunal officials who will read the charges against him and explain his rights. There was no word on when he will be arraigned.
”The forthcoming trial of a former head of state is a new and irreversible step in relation to the international community’s resolve to fight against impunity,” tribunal President Claude Jorda said.
NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson called the move a ”wise and courageous decision.”
The U.N. war crimes tribunal was founded in 1993. Milosevic would be the first former head of state tried by the court. Former Japanese Prime Minister Tojo was tried convicted and executed by a war crimes court from 1946-47, but it was not a U.N. court.
Milosevic, 59, has been in jail since April while local allegations of abuse of power and corruption were investigated. He was indicted by the U.N. tribunal for alleged atrocities committed in Kosovo during an offensive two years ago against the province’s ethnic Albanian population. About 10,000 ethnic Albanians were estimated to have died in the crackdown, which ended after NATO’s 78-day bombing campaign.
The charges in the May 1999 indictment include crimes against humanity and violation of the laws and customs of war. The war crimes tribunal has said it is preparing a possible case against Milosevic for genocide in connection with atrocities committed in the wars in Bosnia and Croatia.
He once described himself as the ”Ayatollah Khomeini of Serbia,” declaring that ”the Serbs will follow me no matter what.” For years, they did – through wars which dismembered Yugoslavia. But in the end, his people abandoned him.
Ahead of a key aid conference in Brussels, Belgium, on Friday, Yugoslavia’s pro-democracy government had intensified its efforts to extradite Milosevic in order to meet international demands.
Washington on Wednesday announced it would send representatives to the donors’ conference, after weeks of waiting to see how serious Yugoslavia’s efforts were. Yugoslavia is in need of billions of dollars worth of foreign aid after 13 years of rule by Milosevic, which ended in October after riots forced him to concede losing elections.
Earlier Thursday, Milosevic appeared to have won more time in his fight to avoid trial by the tribunal when judges on the Constitutional Court suspended a federal government decree allowing his extradition.
The court – made up of judges appointed under Milosevic – ruled it needed more time to consider the government decree enabling the handover.
The decision to bypass the court decision came from the government of Serbia, which together with Montenegro makes up the Yugoslav federation. Senior Serbian officials had served notice they would surrender Milosevic to the tribunal even if the federal Constitutional Court suspended the extradition decree.
In a statement explaining the move, Djindjic said his government had decided to take over the jurisdiction from federal authorities on the extradition law.
He called the Constitutional Court decision ”an attempt to compromise the entire future of our country … a sellout of Serbia’s future.”
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