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Yugoslav war crimes law nears

President Vojislav Kostunica has insisted the law was necessary before suspects could be handed over to the U.N. court  

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Yugoslavia's parliament is expected to adopt a law this week allowing Belgrade to hand over war crimes suspects to the U.N. tribunal.

Despite fierce opposition from nationalists, parliament members on Wednesday voted to put the bill on their agenda as an urgent measure. It's not certain whether the law will be approved later Wednesday or on Thursday.

Handing over the suspects would end a freeze on U.S. aid.

Members of former president Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist party said the bill violated the constitution and would punish Serbs who fought to defend their nation.

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"This parliament has never before discussed an act of treason," Zivorad Igic, a senior Socialist official, told parliament.

"If we adopt the law, we would be kissing the bloody boots of American imperialism."

Under U.S. pressure, the reformers who ousted Milosevic finally agreed to the bill this week with their coalition partners.

The United States froze about $40 million in aid after Belgrade failed to meet a March 31 deadline to hand over suspects.

Under the bill, suspects could be handed over in two weeks. Neither the U.S. nor The Hague sees the bill as necessary.

"Cooperation has to be complete and unconditional," court spokesman Jim Landale said in The Hague on Wednesday.

Yugoslavia's constitution forbids extradition. Supporters of the bill argue that the handovers would not be extraditions since the court is a U.N. institution and not a foreign state.

The bill highlights a power struggle between Serb Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica.

Djindjic sent Milosevic to The Hague without such a law, but Kostunica insists Yugoslavia needs the law before handing over suspects.

This time Djindjic has been hesitant to act alone, preferring instead to press Kostunica to engineer a law and share the political flak.

The tribunal is seeking 33 fugitives, including wartime leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic -- both charged with genocide.

However, three former top officials indicted over Kosovo are widely seen as more likely candidates for early handovers.

They are former security adviser Nikola Sainovic, former army commander Gen. Dragoljub Ojdanic and former Serbian interior minister Vlajko Stojiljkovic.




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