The last chapter in the bloody career of Yugoslavia's former president began yesterday, when the Belgrade government passed a decree permitting Slobodan Milosevic's extradition to the Hague on war crimes charges.
Mr Milosevic, who presided over his country's collapse and several wars in which hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed, now faces the humiliating prospect of being bundled into a United Nations plane on a one-way trip to a cell in the Netherlands.
The Yugoslav deputy prime minister, Miroljub Labus, said Mr Milosevic's deportation could taken place within days or even hours. "Stay in Belgrade next week," he advised the growing throng of foreign television crews waiting to broadcast the moment of Mr Milosevic's departure.
The decree permitting co-operation with the Hague Tribunal came into force today and applies to 16 Yugoslav citizens, including Mr Milosevic. Mr Labus insisted: "This is not an historic decision but an ordinary one. We have an obligation to co-operate with the international institutions since we became part of the international community again."
But he went on to say that the fate of the 16 men is out of the government's hands. "There will be no bargaining. The Hague will demand the extradition of these people and we will have to do it."
The decree makes the Tribunal's work possible by enabling its war crimes investigators to exhume mass graves inside Serbia from which they were previously barred.
Serbian investigators have already exhumed the bodies of 86 Kosovo Albanian civilians found in a truck that was dumped in the Danube, eastern Serbia during the 1999 war. The discovery of the bodies, believed to have been reburied on Milosevic's orders, is the 'smoking gun' which the Tribunal believes will directly link him to charges of genocide in Kosovo.
Public opinion in Serbia has veered violently against Mr Milosevic following the revelations about the killings of women and children.
Mr Labus rebuked critics who have complained that the former strongman is being handed over to secure Western aid money. "We are not selling anyone," he said. The US has threatened to boycott a Brussels donors' conference on 29 June, where Yugoslavia expects to receive more than $1bn in investments, if Mr Milosevic was not handed over to the Tribunal by then.
Western TV crews and journalists are already camping round the Belgrade Central Prison, where Milosevic has been detained since his arrest on 1 April.
Defiant to the end, Mr Milosevic was quoted by one of his lawyers as saying: "My destiny is linked with the destiny of the state and the nation. The case against me was faked. I hope history will make the final judgement."Reuse content