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Milosevic extradition steps closer

The U.N. accuses Serb forces under Milosevic's command of atrocities in Kosovo
The U.N. accuses Serb forces under Milosevic's command of atrocities in Kosovo  

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- The Yugoslav cabinet has approved a decree that paves the way for the extradition of former President Slobodan Milosevic to the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.

The vote was 8-1, with seven cabinet members refusing to attend the session, said Yugoslav Interior Minister Zoran Zizkovic.

The Socialist People's Party of Montenegro (SNP), a junior partner in the ruling coalition, and Yugoslav Prime Minister Zoran Zizic boycotted the session. The ministers belong to the same party that refused to back a similar bill in the federal parliament early this week.

The cabinet was forced to resort to adopt the decree after failing to persuade their junior coalition partners to back a bill in the federal parliament which would have regulated co-operation with the tribunal.

Belgrade's reformist leaders are anxious to show the West they are serious about co-operation with the tribunal in The Hague ahead of a donors' conference next week at which they hope to raise over $1 billion in much-needed aid.

Zizkovic said it would provide for full co-operation, including the transfer of suspects such as the former Yugoslav leader, the central figure in a decade of Balkan wars who has been indicted by the tribunal on charges of crimes against humanity.

"The decree will be applicable to everyone, there is no-one who will be exempt from it," said Zizkovic, a leading member of Serbia's reformist DOS alliance.

Yugoslavia is composed of the republics of Serbia and much smaller Montenegro and the DOS alliance has enough representatives at cabinet level not to have to rely on opposition support.

In parliament, the DOS needs the support of its partner, the Montenegrin Socialist People's Party (SNP), to pass laws.

The United States has made it clear it will only attend the donors' conference in Brussels on June 29 if it has seen signs of progress in Belgrade's co-operation with the tribunal.

Washington has not stated whether passing the decree would be enough to satisfy its conditions. Many analysts believe Belgrade would have to go further by handing over one suspect or more before the donors' conference.

A spokeswoman for prosecutors at the tribunal made clear they wanted action, not just words.

"Of course a decree or a statement in itself is nothing, we want implementation," Florence Hartmann told Reuters before the vote in Belgrade.

The tribunal has charged Milosevic, currently in a Serbian jail on suspicion of corruption, over his crackdown on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo in 1999.

Since Milosevic was ousted last year, reformers have been gradually lifting the lid on allegations of atrocities.

Police have said they have found at least two mass graves in Serbia, presumably filled with the bodies of ethnic Albanians.

They have linked Milosevic to moves to hide evidence but so far issued no official war crimes-related accusations against him.

Milosevic's Socialists on Friday condemned the reformers for planning to pass the decree saying it was unconstitutional, while the former president's lawyers submitted a new demand to a district court for him to be released on bail.

• Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

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