Deal is silent on war crimes

Milosevic shielded from prosecution by key omission

War In Yugoslavia

June 04, 1999|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Sun National Staff

WASHINGTON -- The deal that Slobodan Milosevic reached with European and Russian envoys yesterday omits any mention of his indictment for war crimes, effectively keeping him safe from international prosecutors for as long as he remains the No. 1 power in Yugoslavia.

"That is a silence that is deafening," said Daniel Serwer, a Balkans expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace, where he is a senior fellow.

The terms presented to Milosevic by envoys Martti Ahtisaari, president of Finland, and Viktor S. Chernomyrdin of Russia were a combination of conditions worked out previously by the NATO alliance and the Group of Eight, the seven leading industrial nations and Russia.

At the time they were announced, Milosevic had not yet been indicted by the International War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague.

They were not revised to require cooperation with the tribunal as a condition for ending NATO's bombing.

"It suggests that the indictment never happened," complained Nina Bang-Jensen, counsel to the Coalition for International Justice, an advocacy group. "If he [Milosevic] is vital to guaranteeing peace, there will be a hesitancy on the part of allies or anyone else to deliver him to The Hague."

A U.S. official who has been closely following the diplomacy that led to yesterday's agreement said that, to his knowledge, there was no discussion of adding to conditions previously set down by NATO and the Group of Eight.

"Otherwise we would have had to go back and renegotiate" the terms, a U.S. official said yesterday, adding that Russia almost certainly would have opposed adding this new condition.

"Our goal was to get a general agreement for a cease-fire and a withdrawal, so we could begin the repatriation of refugees and rebuilding Kosovo," a U.S. official said. "First things first."

At the White House, aides refused to rule out the Serbian strongman's eventual apprehension for war crimes. But they also refused to say how he would be held accountable for his actions, suggesting that it was not one of NATO's highest priorities.

That could leave Clinton critics a significant stick with which to continue bludgeoning the White House.

"Milosevic has been reconfirmed in power. He's still the person you need to be talking to," fumed Kurt Bassuener, associate director of the hard-line Balkan Action Council. "At least in the immediate term, he's doing quite all right."

The absence of any mention of war crimes prosecutions in yesterday's Belgrade agreement marks an important difference from the 1995 Dayton accords that ended the war in Bosnia.

Under that agreement, Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia were all required to cooperate with the war crimes tribunal investigating the widespread atrocities in the four-year Bosnian war. A U.S. official explained that the Dayton accords were a detailed 120-page agreement, whereas the Belgrade terms amounted to a much shorter statement of principles.

However, the requirements of the Dayton accord have not been aggressively enforced by the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Bosnia, which has so far failed to seize the two chief Bosnian Serb war crimes suspects, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.

Bob Dole, the former Senate Republican leader, said in an article published Tuesday that the Milosevic indictment should have expanded NATO's goals in the Kosovo war to include the removal of Milosevic. He also urged the administration to close all diplomatic channels to Milosevic "unless such activity is connected to his arrest."

Before announcing the indictments last week, prosecutor Louise Arbour had been concerned that there might be a diplomatic move to offer immunity from prosecution to Milosevic and other top Yugoslav officials.

Issuing the indictment at that point "was a real-time response to a clear concern on our part," said Paul Risley, Arbour's spokesman at The Hague. "We had some very clear indications that these five individuals were seeking to evade the authority of the tribunal," he said, speaking of Milosevic and four other Yugoslav and Serbian political and military officials who were indicted with him.

State Department spokesman James Rubin indicated yesterday that Milosevic's removal and prosecution remain long-term goals of the United States, even if they weren't advanced in the current peace deal.

"We did not set as a condition of suspending the air campaign the necessary arrival of President Milosevic to face his indictment," Rubin said yesterday.

"I think it's quite clear that President Milosevic's reign has been a tragedy for the people of Serbia. We've seen wars lost in Bosnia, wars lost in Croatia, Slovenia go independent. And now the terrible tragedy visited upon the people of Kosovo by the Serb authorities has led to an intensive and quite effective and, unfortunately, quite disastrous for many -- for the future of Serbia -- air campaign against Serbia. So I think that the reign of President Milosevic has been marked by these events."

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