Milosevic could face charges carrying death penalty
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) – Slobodan Milosevic may face charges at home that carry the death penalty, Yugoslav authorities said Tuesday, and the country’s president ruled out extraditing his predecessor to the U.N. war crimes tribunal anytime soon.
Milosevic has been jailed at Belgrade’s Central Prison while authorities try to build a case for corruption and abuse of power against the 59-year-old deposed leader.
But on Tuesday, Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic said the investigation pointed to more serious offenses allegedly committed during Milosevic’s 13-year rule.
”There are … indications that Slobodan Milosevic was involved in severe criminal acts for which the death penalty is provided,” Mihajlovic told reporters in Vienna, Austria.
Mihajlovic did not elaborate. However, Serbia’s prime minister, Zoran Djindjic, told The Boston Globe in an interview that Milosevic will be charged within two months of ordering the murders of personal and political enemies.
Djindjic also said that he expected that Milosevic’s wife, Mirjana, a key political figure, will also be accused of murder.
Executions in Yugoslavia are carried out by firing squad.
While hailing Milosevic’s arrest, the United States and major Western European countries have made clear they expect the architect of the Balkan wars to be handed over to the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.
However, most Yugoslavs consider the tribunal an instrument of American foreign policy established to punish Serbs for what most of them consider their legitimate conduct in the Balkan wars of the last decade, when Yugoslavia disintegrated.
At a press conference Tuesday, President Vojislav Kostunica repeated his opposition to extraditing Milosevic anytime soon despite Western pressure.
”The Hague court is not on my mind at all,” Kostunica said. ”We are not thinking about extradition now. We are dealing with Milosevic’s responsibility before our own nation and before our own courts.”
”Milosevic stands primarily and paramountly responsible before his own nation, his state,” Kostunica said. ”He is guilty of all the things he did – the country’s disintegration and economic collapse – and all the things he failed to do as president.”
He said Yugoslavia, which still harbors numerous other indicted war crimes suspects, was willing to cooperate with The Hague but that did not mean subordinating national dignity for ”a handful of dollars” – a reference to linking trade and aid to Yugoslavia with extraditing Milosevic.
Kostunica also criticized the U.N. tribunal for pursuing ”selective justice” by failing to indict leaders of other former Yugoslav republics ”and even the leaders of NATO” for the 1999 bombing of his country.
Milosevic has steadfastly maintained his innocence. In a statement Monday, he admitted diverting $390 million in Yugoslav dinars and German marks but claimed the money went to bankroll Serb rebels fighting in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina rather than into his personal bank accounts.
It was the first time Milosevic had publicly acknowledged financing Serb armies in the Bosnian and Croatian wars.
A Belgrade court Tuesday rejected Milosevic’s appeal for immediate release.
Milosevic’s Socialist Party threatened Tuesday to launch daily protests if Milosevic is not freed on bail by Friday.
A former customs chief, Mihalj Kertes, was questioned for several hours Tuesday, apparently in connection with the corruption charge against Milosevic. He was believed to have been a central figure in the secret financing of rebels in Bosnia and Croatia.
Milosevic is accused by The Hague of atrocities committed by his forces against ethnic Albanians during the crackdown in Kosovo two years ago.
The tribunal also says it is preparing more charges in connection with the wars in Croatia and Bosnia when the two former Yugoslav republics gained their independence.
Milosevic surrendered early Sunday after a 26-hour standoff with police at his Belgrade villa. He was later charged with inciting his bodyguards to shoot at police. Four policemen were wounded.
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