War crimes tribunal denounces Milosevic immunity proposal

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The Independent Online

War crimes tribunal officials Wednesday denounced a proposal by a U.N. human rights envoy to grant immunity to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic if he agrees to step down.

War crimes tribunal officials Wednesday denounced a proposal by a U.N. human rights envoy to grant immunity to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic if he agrees to step down.

Jiri Dienstbier, the U.N. human rights representative in the former Yugoslav republics, has suggested that dismissing the U.N. war crimes indictment against Milosevic might serve the interest of Balkan stability.

Milosevic, who has refused to accept defeat in the Sept. 24 elections, has been indicted for war crimes in Kosovo which triggered NATO's 78-day bombing campaign last year.

Dienstbier told reporters in Prague after returning earlier Wednesday from Belgrade that punishing Milosevic should not take precedence over "the future of 10 million Serbs and probably the whole Balkans."

"The only possible deal, and the most important thing for Mr. Milosevic, is to have guarantees that if he leaves power he will not be prosecuted and will not spend the rest of his life somewhere in prison," the former Czech foreign minister said.

Jim Landale, a spokesman for the tribunal's 14-judge panel, called the reported comments "extremely disturbing." He stressed that the indictment could only be withdrawn by a judge at the request of U.N. Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte.

"It is not possible for anyone to negate an indictment by the tribunal - no individual, no state, no group of states," Landale told a news conference.

Del Ponte's spokesman, Paul Risley, noted her repeated refusal to even consider dropping the indictment.

On the contrary, he said, she is working to expand the indictment to include charges of war crimes allegedly committed earlier during the ethnic conflicts in Bosnia and Croatia. Del Ponte has also said she plans to charge Milosevic with genocide, the most serious crime under international law.

Risley said the new indictment is intended "to underscore the severity of the tribunal's view of Slobodan Milosevic as an actor in the conflict that was created in Yugoslavia."

Wolfgang Petritsch, the U.N. top official in the former Yugoslav republic of Bosnia, insisted that Milosevic should not be treated any differently than the other 26 publicly accused war crimes suspects still at large.

"The rule of law must apply to everybody - whether we like it for political and tactical reasons, or not," Petritsch told reporters after meeting with tribunal President Claude Jorda.

"Nobody has the right to really suggest that there is now a political opportunity to waver from this principle," he added.

The officials also backed Washington's calls for Russia to hand over Milosevic if he should show up in Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin has invited Milosevic and his challenger, Vojislav Kostunica, to Moscow for talks to resolve their dispute over the election, but Milosevic refused the mediation offer.

"He is a fugitive from this court," said Risley. "Any country that Milosevic may travel to would be requested to make the arrest of a fugitive."

Under U.N. Security Council resolutions, Russia is "legally obliged to detain and transfer any individual who's indicted by the tribunal to The Hague," said Landale.

Milosevic has called a runoff election for Sunday despite international support for the opposition claims of victory.

In Belgrade, Milosevic's opponents appealed Wednesday to Yugoslavia's highest court to declare Kostunica the winner, claiming the president's supporters manipulated the election outcome with sophisticated computer software.