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Monday, 1 April, 2002, 13:27 GMT 14:27 UK
War crimes row erupts in Belgrade
A British soldier at the site of a mass grave in Kacanik, Kosovo
The suspects are wanted for atrocities in the Balkans
Serbia's Government has accused Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica of risking the country's return to the "isolation and misery" of the Milosevic years through his opposition to the extradition of war crimes suspects.


Sanctions will mean turning back the clock to the era of Slobodan Milosevic, to misery and isolation

Vladan Batic
Serb Justice Minister
Yugoslavia is facing a freeze of millions of dollars in US aid after a Sunday deadline for handing over war crimes suspects to the UN tribunal in The Hague expired without any decisive action.

Mr Kostunica, who has declared the tribunal illegal and anti-Serb, says he will not sanction any handovers until legislation is passed permitting extraditions.

"We can no longer sit back and listen to Kostunica's false talk of patriotism," said Serb Justice Minister Vladan Batic. "We demand he clearly spell out whether Yugoslavia is to co-operate with The Hague tribunal or endure US sanctions."

Sanctions, he said, "will mean turning back the clock to the era of Slobodan Milosevic, to misery and isolation".

Deja-vu

The Serbian Government on Sunday issued arrest warrants for four close Milosevic associates, all of whom are charged with war crimes.

Zoran Djindjic
Mr Djindjic orchestrated Milosevic's extradition
Ministers are due to meet later on Monday with members of the Yugoslav federal government to discuss the issue further.

However the two most wanted suspects still at large - General Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic - do not feature on Sunday's warrants.

Those named are:

  • Milan Milutinovic, current Serbian president;

  • Nikola Sainovic, Mr Milosevic's top security adviser and former deputy prime minister;

  • Dragoljub Ojdanic, a former Yugoslav army commander; and

  • Vlajko Stojiljkovic, former Serbian interior minister in charge of the police.

They were all close associates of Mr Milosevic and held high office during the war in Kosovo in 1998 and 1999.

The Serbian Government had arrested Mr Milosevic on 1 April last year when issued with a similar deadline.

He was handed over to The Hague tribunal three months later and is now on trial for atrocities committed in Kosovo, Bosnia and Croatia in the 1990s.

The extradition prompted protest from Mr Kostunica, who said he had not been informed, and brought thousands of angry Serbs onto the streets to demonstrate.

Point scoring

The issue of extraditions has once again brought to the fore the power struggle between Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, a pro-Western leader who engineered Mr Milosevic's arrest and handover, and Mr Kostunica, a moderate nationalist whose supporters are irreconcilably opposed to the court.

On Sunday Mr Djindjic accused Mr Kostunica of trying to score "patriotic points" while hoping the Serbian Government would do the "dirty work" - arrest and extradite the wanted suspects.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell is expected to decide in the next few days whether to allow continued financial support for Yugoslavia.

Justice Minister Batic said a decision against Yugoslavia would have dramatic implications for the country's status on the world stage, seriously jeopardising hopes for European integration, joining the Council of Europe and the Nato-led Partnership for Peace.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Gillian Ni Cheallaigh reports
"The United States is again putting pressure on the authorities in Belgrade"
See also:

27 Mar 02 | Europe
Serbia signals move on war crimes
19 Feb 02 | Europe
Kostunica attacks Milosevic trial
11 Feb 02 | Europe
Milosevic allies still at large
30 Aug 01 | Europe
Milosevic to face genocide charge
03 Aug 01 | Europe
War crimes: The ethnic balance
30 Jun 01 | Europe
The Hague's wanted men
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