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Yugoslavia faces hard road to recovery, says foreign minister
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Slivanovic outlined on Friday in Washington the tasks that face his government to "make up for lost time" in the aftermath of hard-line former President Slobodan Milosevic's ouster.
"This dramatic revolution marks the end of the probably most painful and dramatic decade in the history of Yugoslavia," he told reporters at the National Press Club. "Now our task is to look forward and make up for years of isolation and economic destruction."
Slivanovic said his country faced both internal and external pressures and expectations that vie for the government's attention.
The Yugoslav people want most to have "a normal life, a decent job and the possibility to live and raise a family without fear."
Additionally, he said, Yugoslavs want to see an end to government corruption, saying that the "links between the government elite and organized crime are ... serious obstacles."
"(The Yugoslav people) want to see this certain percentage of people who got very rich while others were suffering, they want to see those guys behind the bars," Slivanovic said. "On this they have no patience. They want to see this happen as soon as possible."
Slivanovic noted that answering to the Yugoslav people was "priority No. 1," acknowledging that the new government must continue the reforms begun by the election of President Vojislav Kostunica -- but said it must also deal with international pressure to bring indicted war criminals to trial.
"The task of my government is to try to fulfill all expectations," he said.
Milosevic and other members of his government were indicted in 1999 by the United Nations' International War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague on charges of carrying out a campaign of war crimes against Kosovo Albanians. That campaign led to NATO's 78-day bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, and the sanctions that eventually contributed to Milosevic's downfall.
Slivanovic said his country intended to cooperate fully with the tribunal, but did not commit to extraditing Milosevic and the others for trial at the Hague.
"That is one of the possible roads," he said.
Yugoslavia is also considering bringing charges against war criminals in domestic courts, a route that officials at the tribunal reject.
"Mr. Milosevic and others who have been indicted by this tribunal, the only place where they should face justice is this tribunal in the Hague," said tribunal spokesman Christian Chartier.
Slivanovic said he personally favored a cooperative approach, and looked forward to meeting with chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte to discuss the issue.
Yugoslavia has already agreed to grant visas to tribunal investigators and to reopen the tribunal office in Belgrade. Slivanovic said the government also hoped to establish "a kind of truth commission" that would lead up to court proceedings.
Slivanovic came to the United States seeking to improve relations between the two countries, strained and eventually broken by years of Milosevic's regime.
"A couple of months ago it would have been inconceivable that a Yugoslav foreign minister would visit Washington," he said. "That is a past which we should leave behind.
Slivanovic met with members of U.S. President Bill Clinton's administration, and planned meetings with President-elect George W. Bush's team as well.
He said Yugoslavia was seeking "serious investors" and to build the economy, strengthen democracy, and integrate into Europe.
"The age of wars is over in the Balkans," he said. "But the region is now again at a crossroads, and we choose between the two options which will determine its future. One is further disintegration. The other is stabilization of the existing situation."
Reuters contributed to this report.
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