Milosevic trial needs a bigger stage, scope

Dictator: He must face judgment on his crimes against humanity, not just those committed against Serbs.

April 04, 2001

INCARCERATION of the sadistic dictator Slobodan Milosevic is a major step toward Serbia's reintegration into the community of nations. It is also not enough.

The Yugoslav government of democratically elected President Vojislav Kostunica deserves credit for making the arrest and for waiting out a confrontation with armed and drunken bodyguards long enough to avoid threatened bloodshed.

It was done just in time to bring a favorable decision by the United States to continue its modest $50 million in bilateral aid and to support Yugoslavia's loan requests to international lending agencies. This is justified.

But federal Yugoslavia -- Serbia and Montenegro -- cannot win acceptance as a law-abiding constituency in Europe if Milosevic is merely tried in Serbia under Serbian law for crimes against Serbian victims only.

He must stand trial before the International Tribunal at The Hague for crimes against humanity, mass atrocities committed on his orders against Croats, Bosnians and Kosovars -- not for what they did, but for who they were at birth.

Until that is done, the arrest of Milosevic can be seen as protection of him and of Serb nationalism from the scrutiny their actions in three wars require. Rival Croatia, also struggling under democratically elected leaders, has faced up to this need with its own accused war criminals.

Mr. Kostunica is caught between rival pressures. Some Serb nationalists do not want to see actions taken by Serb forces judged by the outside world. Mr. Kostunica has denounced the international tribunal as political.

But as long as the Serb nation is in denial of the atrocities committed in the name of its nationalism, there is no hope for it to follow Slovenia and Croatia into European acceptance.

A Milosevic trial in the Hague, with daily accounts broadcast on the Yugoslav television he formerly controlled, is the antidote.

A Milosevic trial in Belgrade for murders of Serb rivals, followed by execution, would prevent this greater scrutiny. It would be the worst outcome for Serbia, perpetuating the country's isolation.

Rehabilitation of Serbia is in every country's interest, and has begun. What Mr. Kostunica needs to see is that it must continue. Extradition of Milosevic to The Hague would allow that to happen.

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