|Sunday, 20 October 2019|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 5, No. 30, 01-02-13
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 5, No. 30, 13 February 2001
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 ARMENIAN PRESIDENT BEGINS STATE VISIT TO FRANCE...President Robert Kocharian began a five-day state visit to France on 12 February accompanied by a number of senior officials. He met in Paris that day with French President Jacques Chirac to discuss bilateral relations, Armenia's policy towards Europe, and the Karabakh conflict. In an interview with "Le Figaro" published the same day, Kocharian said other states should follow the example of the French parliament, which last month adopted a resolution condemning the Armenian genocide of 1915. He said recognition of the genocide is one of the objectives of Armenia's foreign policy, but that the campaign to achieve that objective is organized primarily by the Armenian diaspora. Proposing a toast at a banquet in Kocharian's honor on 12 February, Chirac said that the French people "pay homage to the victims" of 1915, and that in passing last month's resolution the French parliament "wanted to mark their respect for the Armenian martyrdom," AP reported. LF
 ...ACCEPTS PROSECUTOR-GENERAL'S RESIGNATIONBefore departing for Paris, President Kocharian formally accepted Boris Nazarian's resignation as prosecutor-general, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2001). Nazarian has still given no official explanation for having tendered his resignation last week. But Yelena Vartanian, the wife of detained businessman Arkadii Vartanian, told journalists on 12 February that Nazarian had told parliament deputies he is no longer prepared to take "unconstitutional steps" to convict Vartanian on charges of calling for the overthrow of the Armenian leadership. LF
 PROSECUTORS TO CHALLENGE RELEASE OF ARRESTED ARMENIAN EX-MINISTERArmenian prosecutors said on 12 February they will challenge the Review Court's 9 February decision to release former Industry Minister Ashot Safarian from pre-trial detention, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Safarian was arrested earlier this month and charged with illegally writing off a Georgian chemical company's $6.2 million debt to the Armenian government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2001). LF
 FUNDS SECURED FOR ARMENIAN CENSUSArmenia has secured pledges from several Western governments of funding worth $1 million that will make it possible to hold the planned nationwide population census this fall, Finance and Economy Minister Vartan Khachatrian told journalists in Yerevan on 12 February. The Armenian government will contribute a further $400,000 for that purpose in addition to the $167,000 earmarked in this year's budget, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Armenian officials had expressed concern last month that the lack of funds might necessitate postponing the census (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2001). LF
 JAILED FORMER AZERBAIJANI DEFENSE MINISTER EMBARKS ON HUNGER-STRIKERahim Kaziev, who served as Azerbaijan's Defense Minister from 1992 to early 1993, has begun a hunger-strike in the notorious Gobustan jail to which he and former Interior Minister Iskander Hamidov were recently transferred, Turan reported on 12 February. Kaziev has accused the Azerbaijani leadership of bringing all imprisoned former senior officials to that jail with the aim of staging a repeat of the alleged mass escape attempt in January 1999 in which several associates of former OPON special police commander Rovshan Djavadov were shot dead, RFE/RL's Baku bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 11 January 1999). LF
 CHEVRON TO JOIN CONSORTIUM TO BUILD BAKU-CEYHAN PIPELINEThe U.S. oil company Chevron last week formally indicated its willingness to join the sponsor group to build the Baku-Ceyhan oil export pipeline, "The New York Times" reported. According to Reuters, Chevron is to begin talks with Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR on joining the project. SOCAR Vice President Ilham Aliev said last month that Baku may sell up to half of its 50 percent stake in the Baku-Ceyhan project. LF
 GEORGIAN PRESIDENT POSTPONES ANNUAL SPEECH TO PARLIAMENT...In his traditional Monday radio address, Eduard Shevardnadze said on 12 February that he will deliver his annual address to parliament next month, rather than on 13 February as planned, Caucasus Press reported. Shevardnadze, who is suffering from a severe cold, said the postponement was prompted by the fact that economic data from last year have not yet been evaluated, nor is the outcome of planned Paris Club talks on rescheduling Georgia's debts certain. Opposition parliament deputy Sandro Bregadze (Revival Union) on 13 February accused Shevardnadze of cowardice and of showing "disrespect" to the parliament by postponing his address, demanding that Shevardnadze resign, Caucasus Press reported. LF
 ...CALLS FOR RESUMPTION OF ECONOMIC EXPERIMENTSShevardnadze also called during his Monday radio address for the passage of legislation that would allow economic experimentation, Caucasus Press reported. He said it is "ridiculous" that Georgia's current legislation creates obstacles to such experimentation, recalling that Georgia embarked on such experiments "when doing so required courage." Shevardnadze personally oversaw the implementation of new economic models in both agriculture and municipal planning during his final years as first secretary of the Georgian Communist Party Central Committee from 1982 to 1985. LF
 GEORGIAN OPPOSITION DEPUTIES CALL FOR PROBE INTO ALLEGATIONS OF RUSSIAN ELECTION FUNDINGOpposition deputy Zakhari Kutsnashvili (Socialist) called on 13 February for the creation of an interim parliament commission to investigate allegations that then-Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Aksenenko paid for Russian spin-doctors to advise the majority Union of Citizens of Georgia during the runup to the October 1999 Georgian parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2001). Parliament chairman Zurab Zhvania, who is accused of having negotiated that funding, expressed support for Kutsnashvili's proposal, but suggested that the planned commission probe the funding of all factions' election campaigns. LF
 AGIP NAMED OPERATOR OF KAZAKH MEGA OILFIELDThe oil companies aligned in the OKIOC consortium announced on 12 February that Agip has been chosen as project operator to develop Kazakhstan's off- shore East Kashagan oilfield, "The Wall Street Journal" and "The New York Times" reported on 13 February. The four largest OKIOC members -- Agip, TotalFinaElf, Exxon, and Royal Dutch Shell -- had been competing for weeks for the rights to manage the $20 billion project to develop East Kashagan, which has estimated reserves of 5 billion metric tons. But OKIOC failed the same day to reach agreement with the Kazakh government on the date for beginning production at East Kashagan. Astana had sought a commitment to do so by 2005, but Statoil representative Per Rettendal said the consortium is reluctant to make a firm commitment to doing so until more information about the field is available, according to "The New York Times." Statoil is to sell its 4.76 percent stake in OKIOC to TotalFinaElf, according to dpa. LF
 KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT DEBATES ENERGY CRISISKyrgyzstan's Legislative Assembly on 12 February decided to send a delegation to neighboring Uzbekistan to try to negotiate a resumption of natural gas supplies from that country, which were halted on 25 January, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 2001). Also on 12 February, Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev warned Bishkek Deputy Mayor Abdraim Kulbaev and several senior energy sector officials that they risk dismissal if they fail to improve heating, power, and gas supplies to the population. LF
 TAJIK PRESIDENT CRITICIZES MEDIA, POLICEImomali Rakhmonov chaired a cabinet meeting on 10 February to review the economic results for last year, Interfax and Asia Plus-Blitz reported. At that session, Rakhmonov complained of inappropriate coverage of economic developments last year by the media. It is not clear whether he referred specifically to the introduction of the country's new currency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 30 October 2000). Rakhmonov also criticized numerous abuses of the legislation governing land tenure, failure to pay pensions on time, and inadequate medical services. He subsequently dismissed the heads of one oblast and four raions. LF
 TAJIKISTAN'S EXPO EXHIBITS MISSING?Thirteen artifacts from Tajikistan's Ethnographic Museum that formed part of the country's exhibit at the EXPO-2000 world exhibition in Hannover have not been returned to Dushanbe, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 13 February. Police are investigating the disappearance of the exhibits. LF
 OSCE REQUESTS ACCESS TO IMPRISONED TURKMEN BAPTISTThe head of the OSCE center in Ashgabat officially requested on 12 February that Turkmen authorities grant permission to visit jailed Baptist Shageldy Atakov, the Keston News Service reported. Atakov, who is serving a four- year term for swindling, is believed to be subjected to treatment with psychotropic drugs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 2001). Meanwhile Turkmen police and security officials raided a Protestant congregation meeting in a private house in Ashgabat on 2 February, Keston News Service reported on 12 February. LF
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT RULES OUT FOREIGN ROLE IN PRESEVO TALKS...Vojislav Kostunica wrote in a letter to "Politika" that the "final" version of the Belgrade government's plan for Presevo excludes any direct participation by the international community in talks, "Vesti" reported on 13 February (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 and 9 February 2001). Kostunica stresses that the foreigners' role will be limited to "helping" the Albanians set up a delegation and ensuring that it includes no leaders of the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac (UCPMB). The foreigners will also be expected to carry out the implementation provisions of the 1999 Kumanovo agreements. Kostunica stressed that the Serbs and Albanians "alone" must solve questions affecting Presevo as well as Kosova, and that there must be no formulas imposed from outside. PM
 ŠIN A MOVE DESIGNED TO BE REJECTED?Observers note that the conditions described by Kostunica in "Vesti" on 13 February are likely to meet swift rejection by ethnic Albanians, raising the question as to why he raised them at all. First, the Albanians in Kosova and Presevo have long insisted on the active participation of the international community in any talks because they do not trust the Serbs. Second, the Albanians already have a nine-member negotiating team, and it includes three representatives of the UCPMB (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 2001). Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic has indicated that the fighters are acceptable negotiating partners if the Albanians want them (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2001). Kostunica's conditions may serve to underscore the arguments of those observers who suggest that the "peace plan" is just a propaganda ploy aimed at weakening international opposition to an eventual Serbian use of force in Presevo. Some of Kostunica's advisors have written that Belgrade can regain its political position in Kosova through the clever handling of foreigners (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report, " 5 January 2001). PM
 MONTENEGRIN MINISTER: SERBIAN CHECKPOINTS RECALL MILOSEVICMontenegrin Trade Minister Ramo Bralic said in Podgorica on 12 February that Belgrade's decision to set up customs checkpoints on the border with Montenegro is similar to measures taken against the mountainous republic by former President Slobodan Milosevic, "Vesti" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline, " 12 February 2001). Bralic described Belgrade's motive as "political" rather than economic. PM
 KOSOVAR SERB LEADER AGAINST CHECKPOINTSMomcilo Trajkovic told "Vesti" of 13 February that he is "astonished" by the federal government's move to set up customs control points on the border between Serbia and Kosova. He argued that Belgrade's measures will benefit only smugglers, corruption, and the "gray economy." Echoing the views of Montenegrin leaders, Trajkovic added that Belgrade did not consult him before announcing the moves. PM
 IS BELGRADE STALLING ON COOPERATION WITH THE HAGUE?Yugoslav Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic told reporters in Belgrade on 12 February that his police are ready to arrest Milosevic but that they cannot act without orders from the state prosecutor, AP reported. Yugoslav Justice Minister Momcilo Grubac said in Budapest that experts are preparing a law that will permit extradition of Yugoslav citizens and that he hopes it will be in place "in four or five months." Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic remarked in Belgrade that Milosevic should be tried first in Serbia "before we cooperate with The Hague." Deputy Prime Minister Momcilo Perisic expressed similar sentiments (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 February 2001). PM
 CRITICISM OF YUGOSLAV PRIME MINSTER'S REMARKS ABOUT MILOSEVICBatic said in Belgrade on 12 February that it was "inappropriate" of Zoran Zizic to say that Milosevic will not be extradited so long as Zizic is in office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2001). Batic added that the prime minister does not have the authority to decide on questions of extradition, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. In Podgorica, Miodrag Vukovic of the governing Democratic Party of Socialists said that Zizic's remarks reflect poorly on the democratic changes in Serbia and amount to an attempt to discredit them. Zizic belongs to the rival Montenegrin Socialist People's Party. PM
 INQUIRY OPENS AGAINST FORMER SERBIAN TV BOSSA judicial inquiry opened before magistrates in Belgrade on 12 February against Dragoljub Milanovic, the former director of Serbian state television (RTS). He is charged with making 16 employees stay in the RTS building on 23 April 1999 even though he and Milosevic knew NATO planned to bomb it. Milanovic, who has already been expelled from the Federation of Journalists, faces up to 15 yeas in prison if convicted, "The Times" of London reported. The Milosevic regime sought to focus domestic and international attention on civilian casualties in an effort to discredit NATO's intervention in Kosova. PM
 SERBIAN AMNESTY STILL DOES NOT FREE KOSOVARSThe parliament passed an amnesty law on 12 February aimed at reducing prison sentences by up to 25 percent in order to quiet unrest in some prisons, AP reported. Some 700 Kosovars seized during the 1998 and 1999 Serbian crackdown still remain in Serbian jails and can only appeal their sentences. The prisoners include student leader Albin Kurti. The Kostunica government seems to have turned a deaf ear to foreign pleas for the Kosovars to be released on the grounds that they are political prisoners jailed by a dictatorial regime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2001). PM
 OSCE CALLS ON ALBANIANS TO KEEP ELECTIONS FAIRIn his capacity as OSCE chairman, Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana called on rival Albanian political parties to put aside differences in the interest of having a fair and "successful" parliamentary election in June, dpa reported from Tirana on 12 February (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 February 2001). OSCE Ambassador Gerard Stoudman recently visited Albania and called election preparations "disappointing." The October 2000 local elections were widely regarded as successful despite protests by the defeated Democratic Party. PM
 MACEDONIA SEEKING TAIWAN'S MILITARY HELPDespite several indications that Macedonia will switch its recognition from Taipei back to Beijing, it continues to recognize Taiwan and is now seeking military assistance from it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 11 December 2001). For their part, the Taiwanese authorities are seeking to recruit retired airmen to repair and fly the "small number" of used F-5E warplanes that Taiwan has recently acquired in Europe, dpa reported from Taipei on 13 February. The assistance is part of an existing defense cooperation agreement. PM
 NATO ROUNDUP IN HERZEGOVINAA UN spokesman said in Sarajevo on 12 February that SFOR troops recently "raided" the headquarters of the Herzegovinian Croat military in Livno, Onasa news agency reported. The peacekeepers searched for evidence of "anti- Dayton activities," which is a euphemism usually meaning illegal weapons, explosives, or electronic equipment. AP subsequently reported that the issue was eavesdropping on international officials. In a story about another raid, thieves in Banja Luka broke into the office of Veritas, a Serbian organization that compiles evidence of Croatian war crimes against Serbs. The burglars took some equipment but failed to find the indictments and other sensitive documents Veritas officials believe they wanted, AP reported. Veritas has been preparing evidence on the 1995 Croatian offensives. Police are investigating the break-in. PM
 CROATIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER CALLS ON GENERAL TO SURRENDERZlatko Tomcic appealed to Mirko Norac to give himself up and face war crimes charges in court, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Zagreb on 12 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2001). Tomcic stressed that just as the general once bravely defended his country and earned a rank and the privileges that go with it, he must now do his duty and face legal proceedings. Elsewhere, the permanent commission of the Croatian Bishops' Conference appealed for calm and the observance of the rule of law in the wake of recent protests arising from the Norac case. Several veterans groups have promised to continue peaceful protests in defense of Norac. Most of the roads blocked by veterans in the Lika region are now open. On 13 February, "Jutarnji list" quoted unnamed government sources as saying that Norac has left Croatia. PM
 EXTREMIST ROMANIAN PARTY MOVES MOTION AGAINST LOCAL ADMINISTRATION LAW...Corneliu Vadim Tudor, leader of the extremist Greater Romania Party (PRM), on 12 February said the PRM has moved a motion demanding a debate in the Senate of the recently-approved Local Public Administration Law, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Tudor demanded that the implementation of the law be delayed until the parliament ratifies the European Charter on Regional and Minority Languages. He said the charter makes no provision for granting minorities the right to use their language in localities where they make up 20 percent or more of the population. Tudor also threatened that the PRM will start procedures to remove President Ion Iliescu from office if he promulgates the law as passed by the parliament. Meanwhile, PRM Secretary-General and Cluj Mayor Gheorghe Funar has ordered that inscriptions of the constitutional provisions on the country's official language and national character be placed in Cluj. MS
 ...BUT FACES DANGER OF MASSIVE DEFECTIONSPRM deputy Luca Stefanoiu on 13 February announced he is resigning from the party and intends to join a new political formation, to be called Socialist Party of National Revival (PSRN). Stefanoiu said another former PRM member, Bucharest Deputy Mayor Ioan Radu, will be a PSRN member, as will several PRM and Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) deputies. The intention to set up the new formation was announced by Radu on 12 February. He said "at least 15" PRM and PDSR parliamentarians will resign their membership in the two parties and become PSRN members. He said the main thrust of the new party will be economic and social, but added that "it is strictly necessary to promote those activities from a position that safeguards the Romanian people's national identity" from "moderate, non-extremist positions." MS
 ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS EQUIVOCATE OVER IRAQ VISITPrime Minister Adrian Nastase on 12 February told a meeting of the PDSR Executive Committee that the two PDSR parliamentarians who went to Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2001) have "no political mandate from either the PDSR or the parliament," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. He said the two went to Baghdad as "oil experts." Nastase added that Romania "fully respects" the UN embargo but added that Iraq has a "huge debt" to Romania and Bucharest must not find itself in a position "similar to the Yugoslav one" when the sanctions against Iraq are lifted. Foreign Minster Mircea Geoana on 13 February said his ministry is "evaluating" the contacts with the UN on the "humanitarian mission" to Baghdad. Earlier, the ministry had claimed the UN had approved that mission. MS
 ROMANIA HAS NEW FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE CHIEF...The Supreme National Defense Council on 12 February appointed Gheorghe Fulga as new director of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SIE), RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The 50-year old sociologist and former university lecturer is close to President Iliescu's entourage. He was elected a deputy on the PDSR lists in November 2000 and has been a member of parties headed by Iliescu under various names since 1990. Fulga succeeds Catalin Harnagea, who resigned shortly after last year's elections. MS
 ...AND PROBLEMS WITH DEPUTY IN CHARGE OF SUPERVISING THAT SERVICE...The National Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives (CNSAS) is demanding that the SIE clarify whether Ristea Priboi, the PDSR deputy recently appointed head of the parliamentary commission supervising that body, was a member of the Communist secret police, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. CNSAS chief Gheorghe Onisoru said that SIE, the Romanian Intelligence Service, and the Defense Ministry informed CNSAS at the end of 2000 that they have "no file" on Priboi. The media has uncovered Priboi's past as a Securitate foreign intelligence officer in the U.K. and South America and as a member of the team in charge of anti-Radio Free Europe operations. In an interview in the daily "Evenimentul zilei" on 12 February, Priboi denied he had lied to the CNSAS about his past. "They asked us to declare whether we were collaborators. I did not collaborate. I was an officer," he said. MS.
 ...AS CONTROVERSY OVER SECURITATE FILES TRIGGERED BY DUBIOUS RULINGCNSAS member Mircea Dinescu on 12 February said former Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) deputy Lajos Rakoczi is "exaggerating" when he claims CNSAS has cleared him of having been a Securitate informer. Rakoczi resigned after the 2000 elections but appealed the CNSAS ruling. He says he has received a letter attesting to his innocence. Several CNSAS members insist that Rakoczi signed a pledge to be a Securitate informer, but while some say he did indeed inform, others say he never provided information. UDMR and CNSAS member Ladislau Csendes says he "assumes responsibility" for having issued the clearing letter to Rakoczi. UDMR leader Bela Marko said the law on the archives of the former communist secret police must be changed and clear-cut criteria must be established on what constitutes proof of having been a Securitate informer. MS
 MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT CONFIRMS DISAGREEMENT WITH ROMANIA ON BASIC TREATYPresident Petru Lucinschi, briefing journalists on his 9 February meeting in Vaslui with his Romanian counterpart President Iliescu, said that "neither the citizens of the two countries nor international organizations can comprehend how two countries that claim their relations are without problems are unable to finalize their basic treaty." Lucinschi repeated that Moldova is ready to sign the treaty and "take into consideration any objection Romania may have," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. MS
 NEW POLLUTION INCIDENT AT BULGARIA'S BORDER WITH ROMANIABulgarian authorities say ammonia concentration in Nikopol, a Danube River port on the opposite bank from the Turnu Magurele chemical works in Romania, were more than 16 times over permissible levels on 9 February, AP reported on 12 February. The Romanian authorities, on the other hand, said concentration was "at normal levels" and posed no health hazards. MS
[C] END NOTE
 KOSTUNICA'S PATH TO NORMALIZATIONBy Christopher Walker
From the day last fall when Vojislav Kostunica -- backed by crowds of exasperated and energized Serbs -- dislodged Slobodan Milosevic from the Yugoslav presidency until the crucial parliamentary elections last December, the West discarded its sticks and brought out the carrots in its dealings with Belgrade.
As part of this intensive effort to bolster Kostunica's fledgling administration, the key Western powers driving international policy in the Balkans effectively suspended consideration of issues that could have compounded the new Yugoslav president's political vulnerability at home, including demands that Serbia comply with its obligations to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) or that it actively work toward a resolution of strained relationships with Kosova and Montenegro.
At the same time, the United States and the European Union spared no effort in directing assistance to Kostunica and his political allies. That effort included providing post-Milosevic Serbia with substantial financial and technical aid and authorizing sorely-needed assistance from international financial institutions. Belgrade was also admitted to a host of regional and international organizations -- among them the UN, the OSCE, and the Central European Initiative.
Under the circumstances, all of these steps are quite understandable. After a decade of trying to manage the unreconstructed and irrepressible Milosevic, the West was relieved at the advent to power in Belgrade of a more moderate and flexible leadership. But while Western policy-makers stressed the importance of waiting until the December elections so that the coalition of reform parties in Serbia could consolidate their hold on power, some seven weeks later those leaders are still uneasy with the direction the new Serbian leadership has taken in crucial areas of reform. Kostunica's handling of Milosevic represents only the most glaring cause of frustration and consternation.
Last month, shortly before the arrival in Belgrade of the chief prosecutor of the ICTY, Carla Del Ponte, Kostunica met with Milosevic at the presidential residence in Dedinje, a suburb on the outskirts of Belgrade where the former president has been holed up during the months since his removal from power. Kostunica justified the meeting with Milosevic as part of an effort to normalize politics in Serbia; Milosevic was re-elected head of the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) on 25 November at the SPS congress and Kostunica expressed the belief that such a meeting between a sitting president and the head of the largest opposition party is an appropriate and normal form of political contact.
Del Ponte takes a different view. She has described Kostunica's spirited defense of Serbia's old guard as unacceptable and counterproductive. The chief prosecutor has further made clear that Milosevic, an indicted war criminal, must be delivered to the Hague, both as part of Serbia's obligation under international law and as an essential step in bringing about reconciliation and justice to Serbia and its neighbors.
Kostunica, for his part, has defended his protection of Milosevic from extradition to the Hague on at least two grounds: The first is procedural -- that domestic law does not permit Yugoslav nationals to be extradited to foreign courts. The second is political -- that sending Milosevic abroad to face justice will destabilize the political situation in Serbia. The new Yugoslav president suggested that a domestic court should try his predecessor for such offenses as corruption and election fraud.
While Kostunica's recent meeting with Milosevic was particularly brazen -- it came literally days before Del Ponte arrived in Belgrade -- it is not the first time the current and former presidents have met. Kostunica visited Milosevic shortly after masses of Serbs took to the streets last fall to demand that Milosevic recognize Kostunica's election victory. During his election campaign, Kostunica promised not to seek revenge against Milosevic and his associates.
Kostunica's argument in favor of a normalization of political behavior should not be dismissed outright. Key political figures and judges in Serbia have routinely been the targets of assassination attempts and other attacks, giving a particularly violent flavor to political life in that country. Under the Milosevic regime, all pretense of adhering to the rule of law was discarded. As a result, curing the deep-seated pathologies that afflict Serbia's political culture will require political courage and steadfast action.
But determination in taking the necessary action is not sufficient in Serbia's case. Speed is equally important in bringing about needed change. One can rightfully question whether Kostunica's gradualist, legalistic approach is consistent with the type of prompt house-cleaning needed to advance democratic reform in Serbia. Each day that Milosevic is permitted to remain in his villa working the phones also means an additional day of moving dirty bank accounts and cutting deals for himself and his associates.
In recent days, Kostunica has come under greater pressure to change his position on Milosevic. But so far the only result has been a pledge from the governing coalition to bring together a group of experts to draft legislation that would pave the way for Milosevic to be sent to the Hague. However, this effort is projected to take two months to complete. This delay may not deny justice, but putting off this essential step is unlikely to enhance conditions within Serbia.
The author is a New York-based analyst specializing in European affairs.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty