The deadline is looming for 23 former Serb leaders wanted by the War Crimes Tribunal as the Yugoslav government begins a new era of cooperation with the Hague.
With the clocking ticking down on 23 Serbian suspects wanted by the Hague, the tribunal’s top prosecutor swung through the Balkans late this week to press for their handover.
Top of the list and chief among discussions between prosecutor Carla Del Ponte and Yugoslav Justice Minister Markovic on Thursday were military chief Ratko Mladic and Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. The two men are being held responsible for the deaths of thousands of Bosnian Muslims and Croats during the Bosnian war from 1992-1995.
The Hague is also seeking the arrest of 21 other men, identified in a list published by the Yugoslav government early this week. Government officials gave the men until Saturday to turn themselves in.
After years of inaction in turning over suspected war criminals, the Yugoslav government has quickened the pace following a freeze on $40 million in financial aid by the United States. The cabinet last week passed a law regulating cooperation with the Hague tribunal and allowing for the handover of suspects. The US, in response, promised to grant the aid.
The law has already had it's first casualty. Former Serbian INterior Minister Vlajko Stojiljkovic shot himself on the steps of the parliament hours after the law was adopted. Stojiljkovic was among those wanted.
Germany welcomes law
The law has been praised by the international community. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer called the move an important step forward after meeting with Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic in Berlin Friday.
Svilanovic, in response said his government wanted to "draw a line with the past."
Two senior Milosevic associates have already indicated they will turn themselves. A source told Reuters that ex-army chief of staff Dragoljub Ojdanic will respond "within the set time frame."
The most wanted, however, remain the most elusive.
Where are Karadzic and Mladic?
After failed attempts by NATO troops last month to capture Karadzic, the 56-year-old former psychiatrist remains a free man. Del Ponte said the Yugoslav government knows of the whereabouts of both Karadzic and Mladic.
U.N. war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte stands during statements, after meeting with Yugoslav Justice Minister Savo Markovic, in Belgrade, Thursday, April 18, 2002. Del Ponte arrived to Belgrade to press anew for the extradition of war crimes suspects, including top fugitives accused of genocide in the Bosnian war.
"Mladic is a simple issue because we know where he is, we know who is protecting him," she said. "In our opinion it is just a politcial decision to have him arrested and transferred. It could happen today."
The US State Department is offering a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest of both men. But the money hasn't been enough to shake the two loose. Justice Minister Savo Markovic says it is doing everything it can to go after the two.
In return Markovic asked Del Ponte to speed up prosecution of war criminals in Kosovo, something the Swiss prosecutor moved on immediately. In Pristina on Friday, Del Ponte announced she was opening up three cases against members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) and the atrocities they committed during their war with Serbia in 1999. The first charges are expected within the year.