Finding the right way to depose a dictator

Serbia: World needs to present Milosevic with an exit strategy he cannot turn down.

September 29, 2000

THE SERBIAN people spontaneously demonstrated that they overwhelmingly want to change their government, whether it is called Serbian or Yugoslav. The Montenegrin people don't want the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to be their government at all.

Slobodan Milosevic held a premature election for president and parliament of federal Yugoslavia that he intended to rig. It went out of control. He, the people and the world must live with the results.

The masses celebrated victory and his ouster. The Serbian Orthodox Church blessed Vojislav Kostunica as the new president. Some NATO countries promised to end sanctions as soon as Mr. Kostunica is installed.

Mr. Milosevic admits coming in second but demands a run-off. That would give him time to distract everyone by toppling the regime in Montenegro, or seeking a deal with Mr. Kostunica. But what he is getting is more protests, perhaps a general strike.

Mr. Milosevic's allies are deserting him. Vojislav Seselj, a radical nationalist who holds the post of deputy prime minister of Serbia, called the official results a fraud. The Montenegro Socialists are reconsidering their alliances.

Nearly everyone agrees that Mr. Milosevic must go. The question is where. He is deservedly indicted as a war criminal for the slaughter of populations in Bosnia and Kosovo. The U.S. government wants him shipped to The Hague for trial. That is a powerful incentive for him to retain power by any means possible.

The world has enjoyed a civil but morally compromised system of sanctuary for deposed dictators. Idi Amin lives quietly in Saudi Arabia, "Baby Doc" Duvalier in France. They ought to face trial for the people they had murdered, but the arrangement has kept more people from getting murdered.

Russia has refused to join NATO in telling Mr. Milosevic to go. But Russia holds the key. Yugoslavia's ambassador there is Slobodan Milosevic's brother Borislav. Russian President Vladimir Putin clearly does not wish to be seen doing the West's business. But he can offer Mr. Milosevic sanctuary, and set a price for doing so.

The case for sanctuary grows more tempting.

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