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Yugoslavia 'opens way for Milosevic trial,' says U.S. official

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Yugoslavia has taken what could be the first significant step toward bringing former president Slobodan Milosevic to trial on war crimes charges, a senior Clinton administration official has told CNN.

The new Yugoslav government plans to invite the United Nations war crimes investigators to apply for visas to visit Belgrade "next week," he said.

Earlier this week, Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica welcomed the imminent opening of a Belgrade office of the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Now, Yugoslav officials have told the Clinton administration's expert on the Balkans, James O'Brien, that visas would be issued imminently.

Before he defeated Milosevic in September 24 elections, Kostunica dismissed the possibility that he would ever extradite Milosevic, who was indicted last year for alleged war crimes in Kosovo.

But the United States believes the new leader is now "laying the groundwork" for such a move.

Recent polls in Yugoslavia have shown growing support for Kostunica and for extraditing Milosevic to the Hague.

Kostunica pledges co-operation with Hague tribunal

While in France this week at a meeting of the European Parliament, President Kostunica previewed his plan of action.

He said his administration would meet its "responsibilities" and would co-operate with the U.N.'s tribunal.

"Anything that brings us closer to the truth is something that one should support," Kostunica told a news conference following his address to the European Parliament.

The U.S. official understands that Kostunica's first priority is to make Milosevic "accountable" for violations of domestic law before he would allow the Hague to move forward with a trial of its own.

Yugoslav officials have told the U.S. they are in the midst of gathering evidence against Milosevic -- not an easy proposition considering "they don't yet have control of certain secret files," explained the U.S. official.

Such a case against Milosevic could be announced as soon as next month ahead of December 23 parliamentary elections and it is likely to include "economic corruption ... a lot of sweetheart deals involving real estate and the Socialist party," the official added.

While the Clinton administration is encouraged by recent actions of the new Kostunica government, officials said it is still not yet enough to justify the $100 million dollars requested for Serbia by President Clinton last week from Congress.

Before the money is released to Yugoslavia, the Kostunica government must meet at least three conditions set by Congress: To cooperate with the U.N.'s tribunal, to support the Dayton peace process and end subsidies for the Bosnian Serb army and to support the rule of law.

On the first point U.S. officials say the Yugoslav government must provide access to war crimes investigators.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is scheduled to meet with Kostunica later this month in Vienna.

U.S. officials declined to preview that meeting or discuss whether Kostunica would be invited to the White House, or whether Albright or another senior official might travel to Belgrade before the Clinton administration ends.



RELATED STORIES:
Yugoslavia to restore Western relations
November 16, 2000
Yugoslavia aims to join EU
November 15, 2000
Millions in aid pledged to Yugoslavia
November 14, 2000
Milosevic security chief 'faces charges'
November 8, 2000
Deal seals new Yugoslav government
November 3, 2000

RELATED SITES:
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia

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