Belgrade to co-operate with war crimes tribunal

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The Independent Online

Yugoslavia's new government moved yesterday to deepen diplomatic cooperation with the West, indicating that an office of The Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) will open in Belgrade shortly.

Yugoslavia's new government moved yesterday to deepen diplomatic cooperation with the West, indicating that an office of The Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) will open in Belgrade shortly.

"The date hasn't been set yet for the opening of an ICTY office, but it will happen soon," the Yugoslav Foreign Minister, Goran Svilanovic, said yesterday. "We should not and we cannot avoid facing either the results of the Balkan wars in the 1990s, or the accompanying responsibility for war crimes."

Mr Svilanovic also outlined plans for a "truth commission" in Yugoslavia to hear evidence in an effort to fully establish the deeds of the former regime.

The decision breaks one of the last taboos maintained by the ousted president Slobodan Milosevic: that there were no crimes against non-Serbs in the wars that broke up the former Yugoslavia. Milosevic propaganda presented Serbs as the sole victims of Croat, Muslim or Albanian aggression.

In effect the decision means that both ICTY and local experts will gather evidence on war crimes with the full cooperation of Belgrade. The war crimes tribunal has indicted Mr Milosevic and four of his top aides for atrocities committed in Kosovo.

Mr Svilanovic, a long-time human rights activist, belongs to the Civil Alliance, the legal brains of Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS). The Alliance has been the most prominent anti-war party in Serbia since 1991: its leaders were constantly accused by the former regime as "disregarding Serbs as a nation" or being "anti-Serb".

Along with the new Yugoslav President, Vojislav Kostunica, Mr Svilanovic was among the rare opposition leaders who avoided contact with the Milosevic administration. He was sacked in 1998 from Belgrade's law school after he opposed a repressive university law imposed by Mr Milosevic's allies.

In a recent interview, Mr Kostunica described cooperation with ICTY as "unavoidable", saying it followed logically from the Dayton peace accords on Bosnia signed by Mr Milosevic. But he made it clear that Mr Milosevic's extradition to The Hague is not a priority yet

For the time being, the new Yugoslav administration is busy with the task of international reintegration. After being re-admitted to the UN last week, Yugoslavia is also set to rejoin the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). President Kostunica reapplied to the OSCE yesterday, eight years after Yugoslavia was expelled from the organisation.

Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero Waldner, whose country is chairing the OSCE at the moment, visited Belgrade yesterday and said the move represented "a very important day for the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia".

For the first time in years, the OSCE will be allowed to monitor elections in Yugoslavia, Ms Ferrero Waldner said. Serbia is to have early parliamentary elections on 23 December.

Meanwhile, Mr Milosevic is also facing legal problems on much lesser scale: illegal reconstruction at his house. The DOS said yesterday that Mr Milosevic contacted through his lawyer a Belgrade district authority which has started legal proceedings against him for illegal work on his house in Belgrade's Dedinje district.

Plainclothes guards apparently loyal to the former Yugoslav president last Thursday turned away building inspectors attempting to investigate.

* Serbian inmates angry over alleged torture by prison guards and a possible amnesty for jailed ethnic Albanians only, rioted yesterday, forcing guards to retreat and call in policereinforcements. The riot, in one of Yugoslavia's largest prisons, began late on Sunday. Footage shown on Serbian TV showed an unidentified prisoner with head bandages complaining: "They used to beat us like horses."

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