Slobodan Milosevic attempted to block his surrender to The Hague on war crimes charges yesterday, prompting a stern warning from UN prosecutors that they would brook no further delay.
The stand-off came as America and Britain were welcoming the Yugoslav government's adoption of a decree enabling him to be transferred to face charges stemming from his 1999 crackdown in Kosovo. The decree adopted on Saturday came into force yesterday.
But Mr Milosevic's lawyer, Toma Fila, said after visiting the former Yugoslav president in jail in Belgrade, that he would go to the country's constitutional court to challenge the ruling. "I know no country on the face of the earth that would agree to extradite a person who was once its elected president," he said.
In The Hague, the spokes-woman for the chief UN prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, said the Yugoslav government had "opened the door, but they must start with action. They have to locate and arrest them [the suspects] and transfer them to The Hague".
If Mr Milosevic's stalling tactics fail and he is transferred to The Hague in the coming days with other indictees, he will join 38 prisoners already held by the UN court for serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in former Yugoslavia since 1991.
He will be the only serving president to have been indicted while in office to appear in The Hague. The Serbian Prime Minister, Zoran Djindjic, said yesterday that "it will take 15 to 20 days for Slobodan Milosevic to go".
When the time comes, Mr Milosevic could be driven to Nato's air base at the Bosnian town of Tuzla before being flown to the Netherlands. Once there, he would be transferred to the modern detention facility at Scheveningen, located on the coast just over a mile from The Hague.
The inmates here, who have access to sports facilities, satellite television and family rooms to spend time with relatives, include the former Bosnian Serb president Biljana Plavsic and the former speaker of the Bosnian Serb parliament Momcillo Krajisnik. Also detained is the Bosnian Serb General Radislav Krstic, accused of the genocide of Muslims at Srebrenica.
Twenty-six others, publicly indicted by the tribunal, are still at large. At the top of the wanted list are the Bosnian Serb wartime leaders Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, who face genocide charges and whose whereabouts are not publicly known.
The Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister, Miroljub Labus, said on Saturday that "16 indictments of the tribunal were in force" concerning Yugoslavia.
But the actual number of suspects affected by the Yugoslav government decree is probably higher, as a single indictment can contain a group of names, and some indictments are sealed with their contents as yet unknown.
Montenegrin authorities were recently given a sealed indictment that deals with the atrocities of the Yugoslav army around the coastal town of Dubrovnik in 1991.
Mr Milosevic and four of his aides share a single 1999 indictment for war crimes in Kosovo. The same goes for war crimes charges against non-Serbs in western Bosnia. Groups of people are accused of atrocities in the town of Prijedor or in the notorious Omarska and Keraterm prison camps.
It is widely believed that besides the "Kosovo five" (Mr Milosevic and his aides), three former Yugoslav army officers known as the "Vukovar three" could travel to The Hague soon. Mile Mrksic, Veselin Sljivancanin and Miroslav Radic face charges over the killing of 260 people near Vukovar hospital in Croatia in 1991.Reuse content