Faced with a midnight suspension of US aid to Yugoslavia, a leading pro-Western party in Serbia yesterday demanded the speedy arrest of war crimes suspects, and the government issued warrants for four of Slobodan Milosevic's closest associates.
The development came as tensions soared in the countdown to the deadline issued by US Congress to the Yugoslav authorities, urging them to co-operate with the Netherlands-based court or lose $120m in financial assistance.
Vladan Batic, the Justice Minister in Serbia, said arrest warrants for four Milosevic aides had been served and that it was now up to Serbian police to follow them through. "The police will have the final word, they will decide when and how to carry out the [arrest] actions," Mr Batic said.
The Serbian Civic Alliance, a member of the ruling democratic coalition, said the arrests were necessary to prevent international sanctions and keep funds desperately needed for reforms coming.
"Without surrender of those indicted to the Hague tribunal, Serbia will again slip into isolation," the party warned.
The Serbian Prime Minister, Zoran Djindjic, said the country was "only a step away from the most serious international isolation". He blamed his political arch-rival, the Yugoslav President, Vojislav Kostunica, for lack of co-operation with the war crimes court.