He may run, but Milosevic cannot hide from justice

What Now For Serb Leader?
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The Independent Online

The War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague is preparing to expand its indictment of Slobodan Milosevic from crimes against humanity to the much graver charge of genocide. The move came as crowds in the streets of Belgrade sought to achieve what Nato bombs and international sanctions had failed to do - drive the Yugoslavian President from power.

The War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague is preparing to expand its indictment of Slobodan Milosevic from crimes against humanity to the much graver charge of genocide. The move came as crowds in the streets of Belgrade sought to achieve what Nato bombs and international sanctions had failed to do - drive the Yugoslavian President from power.

Mr Milosevic has defied public anger before. In the spring of 1997, despite months of nightly street protests in Belgrade and other cities, he held on to power long enough to set off another war over Kosovo.

He has consistently managed to divide the opposition, rigging elections and intimidating, discrediting or coopting potential challengers for so long that he did not seem to believe that this time they would remain united.

The prospect that he might at last be ousted has caused fierce controversy in the West. In the interest of getting him out, some have been prepared to contemplate allowing Mr Milosevic to go into exile, probably in Russia, and to ease his peaceful road to retirement by offering immunity from prosecution. That has outraged the officials who have spent years seeking to bring him to justice.

"Right now, he is only charged with crimes against humanity in relation to Kosovo," said Paul Risley, the spokesman for Carla del Ponte, the chief prosecutor in The Hague. "Potentially, his charges could now be as serious as genocide."

The indictment could be changed by extending the range of charges against Mr Milosevic from Kosovo to include Bosnia and Croatia, Mr Risley said. He might then be charged with overall responsibility for the bloodshed in Croatia in 1991 and in Bosnia from 1992 to 1995.

Mr Milosevic's responsibility would then include the Serb massacre in Vukovar, in eastern Croatia, the shelling of Dubrovnik, the ethnic cleansing of north-west Bosnia's Muslim population and the killings in Srebrenica and other towns in eastern Bosnia.

Until now, the crime of genocide has been levelled only at the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, and his military strongman, Ratko Mladic. But Mr Risley suggested thetribunal might be about to point the finger at Mr Milosevic as the supreme figure to whom all the others were responsible.

Jiri Dienstbier, the UN human rights envoy, suggested on Tuesday that the West and Russia might let Mr Milosevic off entirely. "The most important thing for Mr Milosevic is to have guarantees that if he leaves power he will not be prosecuted and he will not spend the rest of his life in prison," Mr Dienstbier said.

Tribunal officials are appalled at the signal such an offer would send to other national leaders accused of atrocities. But Mr Risley said an immunity offer would also throw into a tail-spin the Hague court's existing verdicts. "To allow such an individual as him to go free would make a mockery of any of the tribunal's efforts to prosecute people below him."

Lawyers for the 35 men already sentenced by the tribunal are thought to be preparing petitions for their clients' early release should the Serbian strongman go free.

They include Tihomir Blaskic, the Bosnian Croat general sentenced to 45 years in 1999 for the massacre of more than 100 Muslims in Bosnia in 1993.

The flurry of action comes amid fears that the Yugoslav leader will flee his rebellious capital and seek sanctuary inside Russia or Belarus, two of Serbia's staunchest allies over the past decade.

Mr Risley says the prosecutor will formally ask Russia to arrest Mr Milosevic if he leaves Belgrade for Moscow.

If the prosecutor releases the extra charges, it will be impossible for any state to offer Mr Milosevic sanctuary without becoming a virtual outlaw in the eyes of the UN. Strengthening Mr Milosevic's indictment might also affect the charges against his four cabinet associates, Milan Milutinoviv, Nikola Sainovic, Dragoljub Ojdanic and Vlajko Stojiljkovic.

Ms del Ponte is expected to act on the extra charges after she receives final dossiers on Serb atrocities in Kosovo in the course of her visit to Pristina today.

Mr Dienstbier's statement came as Ms del Ponte was in Bosnia for a meeting with the "Mothers of Srebrenica" group, representing relatives of 8,000 Muslim men massacred by Serbs in the eastern town in July 1995.

The survivors of the Srebrenica bloodbath pressed Ms del Ponte on Wednesday for an indictment of Mr Milosevic for his role in the single worst massacre in the Balkan wars of the Nineties.

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