Sarajevo (CNSNews.com) - With both the U.S. and European Union putting pressure on Belgrade, the international court that has indicted former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is optimistic he will be in The Hague before the end of 2001.
"We have the hope of seeing him come to The Hague during the year," said International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) spokesperson Florence Hartmann in a telephone interview Friday.
Milosevic was indicted in May 1999 for crimes against humanity and genocide for commanding Serb forces against ethnic Albanians in the southern province of Kosovo.
A visiting EU delegation Thursday told his successor, President Vojislav Kostunica, that Yugoslavia must cooperate and present Milosevic for trial. The U.S. Congress also given Belgrade until March 31 to comply if it wants to receive $80 million in aid.
Since elections and mass protests last September swept him from power, the ICTY has been pressing the new government to hand him over. Hartmann said the new authorities were now preparing a law that would allow the country to do so.
"It is an international obligation, and they have to change their local law [to comply with it], not the opposite," she said. "If they are working on it quite quickly, it's not a problem."
Hartmann said the court was satisfied with a visit by its chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, to Belgrade last month - not because any deadlines for Milosevic's arrest were discussed (they were not), but because it was the first time that Yugoslav authorities acknowledged that they could not ignore the court.
Del Ponte also briefly mentioned the possibility that United Nations sanctions could be reinstated if Yugoslavia failed to co-operate.
"We don't want to enter a cycle of threat," Hartmann said, but added that Del Ponte would keep the U.N. Security Council informed about the level of co-operation.
Apart from a possible renewal of sanctions, Belgrade could also suffer if foreign donors hold back funding, as Congress has warned it may do.
But despite the congressional stance, the U.S. State Department could not name concrete actions Yugoslav authorities would have to take before the aid would be released.
A department official said it was looking for "substantial, meaningful co-operation" that would show Yugoslavia was serious about meeting its ICTY requirements.
The recent opening of a tribunal office in Belgrade, for example, was "a good sign," he said, but added that March 31 was still seven weeks away.
"This is an issue in progress," the official said in a telephone interview. "There are a lot of sensitivities, obviously. It's a very new, very fragile democracy in Serbia and everyone is mindful of that."
But officials in Belgrade are making comments that would have been unheard of even a few months ago. Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, for example, said after visiting Washington last weekend that his government would be willing to release information it had on Milosevic.
And Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic told Del Ponte during her visit to Belgrade that the country accepts its international obligations and does not want to cover for war crimes suspects.
But in some respects, Del Ponte's visit nonetheless fell short of tribunal expectations. Hartmann said that while the chief prosecutor and Yugoslav officials had a dialogue, her conversation with Kostunica himself could only be described as a "monologue."
Kostunica had expressed the view that the tribunal was politicized and practiced selective justice.
Meanwhile Milosevic remains under 24-hour police surveillance, and the ICTY office in Belgrade has vowed to find and freeze any foreign bank accounts he holds, to prevent the possibility of his continued hiding or flight from Yugoslavia.
He, too, does not recognize the tribunal's authority.
"I have always considered The Hague tribunal to be an immoral and illegal institution," Milosevic was quoted as telling Italy's La Stampa last week.
Del Ponte, however, will not back down from her stance that Yugoslavia must co-operate and turn its former president over for trial for alleged atrocities in Kosovo.
"She insists on the fact that co-operation is a factor of stability in the region," Hartmann said. "If the region is full of happy and free war criminals, then there is no stability. We don't want to lose time because it's very bad for the region, and people need to be safe."