Serbian public prepared for Milosevic’s extradition
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) – After years hearing the glories of Slobodan Milosevic’s rule, Serbs are now being told of Kosovo atrocity victims dumped into mass graves, as the media prepare them for what seems inevitable: the former leader’s extradition to the U.N. war crimes tribunal.
Police, now under the control of pro-democracy authorities, have discovered at least two mass graves containing a total of about 1,000 bodies of Kosovo Albanians, apparent victims of Milosevic’s crackdown in Serbia’s southern province.
”This shows that Milosevic and his gang were no patriots, but plain murderers,” said Dusan Mihajlovic, Serbia’s minister in charge of the police. ”This will help the Serb public realize the monstrosity of the former regime.”
The recent discovery of the mass graves – one near Belgrade containing mostly corpses of women and children, as well as three heads without bodies – coincided with the efforts by Serbia’s new rulers to pass a law that would allow Milosevic’s extradition to the war crimes court in The Hague, Netherlands.
Over 3,000 ethnic Albanians are still missing after Milosevic’s crackdown in Kosovo prompted a 78-day NATO air war in 1999. Mass graves located far from the province and inside Serbia proper may be a clue to what happened to those victims.
Police have said Milosevic personally ordered his security commanders to remove the bodies from Kosovo, fearing they could be used as evidence in any future war crimes prosecution.
The latest in a series of media revelations against Milosevic came Thursday as the respected Vreme weekly carried a story by a Yugoslav army reservist who claimed to have driven 10 freezer truckloads of bodies from Kosovo to a copper smelter in Bor, eastern Serbia.
”Soon, I discovered that I was driving corpses,” the soldier, who was identified only as Nikola, reportedly said. ”They might have been burned in the copper furnaces.”
The revelations are critical in shattering the illusions created under Milosevic’s 13-year rule.
A large majority of Serbs were convinced by his propaganda that they were the real victims of the Balkan wars. Milosevic’s war campaigns in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo were approved by most of the Serb public.
But after the discovery of the mass graves was widely publicized by the media, public opinion for the first time shifted toward Milosevic’s extradition. The latest opinion polls by the Strategic Marketing polling agency say 46 percent of Serbs are for Milosevic’s extradition to the tribunal, while 36 percent are against. The rest favor cooperation, but no extradition. The polls do not show a margin of error.
Out of 24 callers to the popular Radio B-92 talk show Thursday, 20 were for Milosevic’s extradition. Only four were against, and even they only objected because his appearance would be de facto recognition of Serbian guilt for the Balkan atrocities.
”There is one good thing about the discovery of the mass graves,” said psychologist Marta Jovanovic. ”It has woken up the Serb public which had believed in Milosevic’s propaganda that his battles were just and in the Serb cause.”
Milosevic has been in a Belgrade prison since April 1 under the suspicion of corruption and abuse of power. The war crimes tribunal wants him and his associates tried in The Hague.
Yugoslav pro-democracy leaders have been pushing through parliament a bill allowing extradition of the former president. But on Thursday, they announced they had failed to reach a deal with Montengrin lawmakers opposed to the bill. Montenegro is the small partner of Serbia in the Yugoslav federation.
Yugoslav officials said they would find another way to cooperate with the U.N. court.
”War criminals will be extradited to The Hague, and we have different methods to do it,” said Democratic Party official Goran Vesic. ”We’ll do it one way or the other.”
Pro-democracy officials are moving forward with urgency. The United States has made Yugoslavia’s cooperation with the tribunal a condition for its participation in an international donors conference in Brussels, Belgium, on June 29.
Cash-strapped Yugoslavia expects at least a billion dollars from the conference, and the American absence would jeopardize efforts to revive the economy ruined by Milosevic’s mismanagement.
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