Slobodan Milosevic is behind bars in The Hague today, facing charges of crimes against humanity after a decade of Balkan wars that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. Milosevic, who was handed over by Serb authorities yesterday, will become the first former head of state to face the U.N. War Crimes Tribunal. [includes rush transcript]
The United States had exerted tremendous pressure on Yugoslavia, repeatedly warning that it was prepared to boycott an international donors conference in Brussels today if Milosevic was not handed over. Yugoslavia’s economy is in shambles after a decade of war and, the NATO bombing, and sanctions imposed to punish Yugoslavia for Milosevic’s policies. A Yugoslav official announced today that following Milosevic’s extradition the U.S. had pledged $180 million at the conference.
The transfer was executed swiftly by the Serbian government without informing Milosevic’s successor as Yugoslav president, Vojislav Kostunica, and despite a constitutional court ruling that barred the extradition. Kostunica condemned the move, calling it "illegal and unconstitutional." Some members of government are threatening to quit their posts, raising the possibility that the democratic coalition could break apart and cause the new federal government to fall, and force early elections.
Milosevic faces charges for atrocities committed in Kosovo during an offensive against the province’s ethnic Albanian rebels. Some 10,000 Albanians were killed. The war crimes tribunal has said it is also preparing a possible case against Milosevic for genocide in the wars in Bosnia and Croatia.
- Liliana Smilovich, a journalist in Belgrade.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Slobodan Milosevic is behind bars in The Hague today, facing charges of crimes against humanity. Milosevic was handed over by Serb authorities yesterday. He will become the first former head of state to face the UN War Crimes Tribunal.
The United States had exerted tremendous pressure on Yugoslavia, repeatedly warning that it was prepared to boycott an international donors conference in Brussels today, if Milosevic was not handed over. Yugoslavia’s economy is in shambles after a decade of war and the NATO bombing and the sanctions imposed to punish Milosevic’s policies. A Yugoslav official announced today the US had pledged $180 million.
The transfer was executed swiftly by the Serbian government, without informing Milosevic’s successor as Yugoslav president Vojislav Kostunica, and despite a constitutional court ruling that barred the extradition. Kostunica condemned the move, calling it "illegal and unconstitutional." Some members of government are threatening to quit their posts, raising the possibility that the democratic coalition could break apart, and cause the new federal government to fall, forcing early elections.
We go now directly to Belgrade. We’re joined by Liliana Smilovic, a journalist in Belgrade. Welcome to Democracy Now!
LILIANA SMILOVIC: Hi, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. First, your reaction to the extradition of Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague.
LILIANA SMILOVIC: Well, I’m not very happy about it. I found it a humiliating experience. I thought the government had violated the constitution, and I thought there was something quite unseemly and ignominious about the way the transfer, as they call it, was seen as something that the Yugoslav government did in order to obtain US money to be pledged at today’s conference in Brussels.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain exactly what the deal was, the amount of money that the US pledged, also saying that they would pull out of the conference?
LILIANA SMILOVIC: Well, the US apparently was thinking of pledging $100 million, and then last night, when the news arrived that Milosevic had been transferred, the US decided to pledge $180 million. However, I wish I were able to say and able to believe that this was all the doing of the US government and US pressure. Unfortunately, in Yugoslavia itself, in Serbia, most of this ruling coalition called DOS, that consists of eighteen parties, I think about seventeen of these parties had always wanted to extradite Milosevic, constitution or no constitution, then. And I think they were looking for a pretext. So here, for it to work, really what went hand-in-glove together was some pressure from Washington, but also a desire on a lot of the democratic parties to get rid of Milosevic one way or another.
So most of Mr. Kostunica’s allies in the coalition government in Serbia really had no desire to stick their necks out in order to try to, for example, to try Mr. Milosevic at home. They had always wanted to extradite him. They used the American pressure almost as an excuse to do it. And they are going to present this republic as something that they benefited from, as money for, as Mr. Djindjic puts last night — he said, we did this for our children and our grandchildren and not looking back into the past, but looking into the future, etc.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, this is all happening also against this backdrop of freezer trucks filled with bodies that have just been found. Can you explain what they are, Liliana Smilovic?
LILIANA SMILOVIC: Well, clearly some of the remains of victims of the fighting in Kosovo or murders in Kosovo had been put in these cooler freezer trucks and shipped half across Yugoslavia from Kosovo, dumped first into the River Danube, then, after one of these coolers — apparently there was more than one, but after one of these coolers somehow emerged from the Danube, then the police, during the bombing, during the NATO bombing, came and took the bodies out and buried them on the grounds of special police units.
So in Yugoslavia right now, they are excavating these remains. These are children, old men, women, and these are obviously war crimes, because these people were transported from Kosovo into Serbia. So, clearly, this stinks to high heaven of war crimes, because what other reason would there be to transport these bodies all across Yugoslavia during NATO’s bombing? And but, however, it is also clear that there might have been some knowledge within even this democratic government of these crimes and of these bodies for quite a while and that the timing was chosen so as to coincide with the donors conference and that the Serbian government probably decided to reveal this gruesome fact and this gruesome truth to its citizens and to manipulate that knowledge of war crimes committed as an extra pressure to get Milosevic to The Hague without too much public protest.
AMY GOODMAN: Liliana Smilovic, we only have thirty seconds, but the response of the president, Kostunica, who is a constitutional lawyer himself, to the extradition of Milosevic to The Hague?
LILIANA SMILOVIC: Well, he was very angry, and he said that this was unconstitutional, that this was very much the way Milosevic himself operated, in an unseemly, hasty, unconstitutional manner. And he said that what he was trying to do was build the rule of law and that this was in complete contradiction to anything he wanted in a democracy.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you for being with us, Liliana Smilovic, reporting to us from Belgrade. Again, the latest news, Slobodan Milosevic is behind bars in The Hague.