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Milosevic nearer to extradition

Bulatovic could be a key figure in Kostunica securing an extradition deal  

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- The Yugoslav government has moved a step closer to introducing a law that would allow war crimes suspects such as Slobodan Milosevic be extradited to the Hague.

Members of the country's government voted by a majority on Thursday in favour of a draft bill which would open the way for Yugoslav suspects to be handed-over to the International War Crimes Tribunal in the Netherlands.

The bill will now go before the federal parliament where it could face stiff opposition from the government's junior partner, Montenegro's Socialist People's Party (SNP).

Parliamentarians could consider the bill as early as next week, the Associated Press said.

Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, who has pushed for the draft bill to be passed to avoid international isolation, said: "An important step has been reached in connection with co-operation with The Hague tribunal."

Feud over Kosovo war crimes mounts  

He was confident the draft bill will get through parliament.

He said: "I believe the need to co-operate with the world and The Hague tribunal as they are, in order to avoid further international isolation, will be stronger than any other calculation."

Despite Kostunica's alliance dominating parliament he will have to rely on the support of the SNP to get the draft law passed by a majority in the 178-member federal parliament.

The SNP says it is ready to co-operate with The Hague, but it has opposed the idea of handing over suspects to the tribunal, saying it is biased against Serbs. Instead it wants to try Yugoslavs in its own courts.

Failure to pass the law could undermine efforts to attract crucial foreign funds for an economy impoverished by a decade of wars and international sanctions under Milosevic's rule.

Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said the country must co-operate with the tribunal or face the loss of a massive influx of foreign investment from the U.S. and Western financial institutions.

Djindjic told state television: "The sky will fall on our heads if we fail to write off at least 65 percent of our foreign debt -- estimated at dozens of billions of dollars -- by the end of June. Any other solution is a suicide."

The Balkan country would like to raise more than $1 billion at an international donor conference set to take place on June 29, Reuters reported.

Yugoslavia's chances of being awarded the money rest on increased co-operation with The Hague.

The U.N. tribunal indicted the former president Milosevic and four of his top aides in 1999 for alleged atrocities committed by Yugoslav forces against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

The U.N. court has demanded a swift hand-over of Milosevic, ousted as Yugoslav leader last October and arrested in April for alleged abuse of power. The country's new rulers have so far refused the demand, saying they first want to try him at home.

A senior government official said the Serbian side had made a concession allowing the latest version of the draft law to state that each of the two republics would handle extraditions of indictees to the court in The Hague, and that he believed this could satisfy the SNP, Reuters said.

"Nobody can at this moment be certain how this political crisis will be ended," the official added.

Meanwhile, Milosevic has increased his legal team by 10 additional lawyers, defence lawyer Zdenko Tomanovic told the Beta news agency.

• Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

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