Next stop The Hague

Posted: Tuesday, April 03, 2001

The following editorial appeared in today's San Jose Mercury News:

Former Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic is behind bars at last, though not yet in the tank that he deserves. There are standing reservations for him in The Hague, where an international tribunal has indicted him for war crimes in the Balkans.

But his dispatch to the central prison in Belgrade over the weekend is a good first step toward bringing him to justice. Good enough that the Bush administration agreed wisely on Monday not to withhold $50 million in American aid for Yugoslavia.

Congress and the administration had set March 31 for Yugoslav authorities to hand over Milosevic to the world tribunal. Vojislav Kostunica, the new Yugoslav president, ordered in the police to beat the deadline, while claiming it was a coincidence.

Milosevic surrendered after a 36-hour impasse, during which he threatened to kill himself and his family. ...

His arrest marked a pathetic end and precipitous downfall for a man who once impassioned the masses with mystic incantations for a Greater Serbia. He now sits sedated and exhausted, according to his lawyer, awaiting charges of abuse of power and corruption for bilking the Yugoslav treasury of millions of dollars.

These charges, brought by Yugoslav prosecutors, are minor compared with the magnitude of his crimes. They have only to do with what Milosevic did to Yugoslavia, not to his neighbors in the Balkans: the four wars, under his proxy armies, that left a quarter-million dead and hundreds of thousands more displaced, the horrors committed in the name of ethnic cleansing.

Milosevic must be sent to The Hague to be called into account for these crimes against humanity. So far, Milosevic has been indicted only for his role in a "campaign of terror and violence against Kosovo Albanians." The tribunal is expected to add charges of genocide for crimes in Bosnia.

War-weary and financially depressed Yugoslavs voted Milosevic out of office six months ago. But many would prefer not to dredge up the past. After all, they elected Milosevic president twice and bought into his paranoid and grandiose world view.

Kostunica, himself a nationalist, has remained adamant that the Yugoslav constitution bars the extradition of Yugoslavs. But he's also a realist who wants to bring Yugoslavia back into the international community. Hundreds of millions of dollars in aid from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund will depend on his cooperation with the tribunal.

Democracy in Yugoslavia remains fragile, and resentment against the United States runs deep. The Bush administration is wise to roll with the new Kostunica government for now. But Belgrade must agree soon to surrender Milosevic to The Hague or remain a destitute pariah in Europe.



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