When a popular uprising toppled former Yugoslav President
Slobodan Milosevic last October, nobody was happier than the chief
prosecutor at the international war-crimes tribunal, Carla del
The new reformist rulers in Belgrade - anxious, she hoped for
good relations with Washington and Europe - would surely hand their
old enemy over to the United Nations court in The Hague, where he
has been indicted for alleged atrocities in Kosovo.
Four months later, Ms. del Ponte is still waiting. And as the
Yugoslav government plays for time, the signs are that she will
have to wait quite a bit longer to bring the West's bete noire to
Mr. Milosevic is living under surveillance, but not under arrest,
in Belgrade. He is lucky that his successor, President Vojislav
Kostunica, is mistrustful of the tribunal, sharing the view of many
Yugoslavs that it is an anti-Serb tool of the West. Kostunica also
apparently fears that handing Milosevic over to the tribunal would
make the former strongman a popular martyr.
But unless Belgrade starts cooperating with the Hague tribunal by
March 31, Washington has threatened to cut off a $100 million aid
package. More critically, the United States has vowed to block any
help from multilateral lenders such as the International Monetary
Fund and World Bank, which Yugoslavia urgently needs to refinance
its $12 billion foreign debt.
The European Union is also applying pressure. Brussels is making
a $223 million economic aid package this year conditional on
cooperation with the UN tribunal.
At the same time, no Western leader wants to be too hard on the
reformist Mr. Kostunica. They would prefer to encourage him to join
their ranks rather than isolate him - which gives him room to
Everything hinges on what Western capitals choose to regard as a
satisfactory level of cooperation with the tribunal. "What that
means exactly, the administration has yet to define, but there are
no specific demands," US Ambassador to Belgrade William Montgomery
told the Belgrade daily 'Blic' recently.
Yugoslav officials say they are ready to make some gestures, but
that they will make choices. "Cooperation with the tribunal does
not mean automatically complying with the court's every demand,"
Yugoslav Prime Minister Zoran Zizic told reporters last week.
Ms. del Ponte herself this week showed signs of flexibility.
After a day of meetings with EU officials in Brussels Monday, she
said "it is not a question of demanding that Serbia (the dominant
Yugoslav republic) hand over Milosevic to the tribunal tomorrow."
But she did insist on a "concrete sign of their willingness to
cooperate" without delay.
Kostunica, who received del Ponte only reluctantly and very
coldly during her recent visit to Belgrade, has called cooperation
with her court "a process." European Commission President Romano
Prodi echoed that approach Monday, saying "we urge the young
democracy to cooperate with the tribunal. This must be done in a
The Yugoslav government's key argument in refusing to hand
Milosevic over is that its Constitution forbids extradition of
Yugoslav citizens, and that a new law would be needed to authorize
cooperation with the war-crimes tribunal. …