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Breaking News

Yugoslav Authorities Arrest Slobodan Milosevic

Aired March 30, 2001 - 5:12 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

FRANK SESNO, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take you to the other major international story that we are tracking at this time involving the former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Slobodan Milosevic, who presided over the disintegration of Yugoslavia as well as several wars in the Balkans to include the one in Bosnia, and of course, in Kosovo. Slobodan Milosevic, who is wanted in The Hague for war crimes -- alleged with crimes against humanity. He has been arrested -- CNN now confirms it.

We are joined on the phone by the Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Carko Kovac.

Prime Minister can you tell us, please, what the latest is on Mr. Milosevic -- where he is and what happens next?

CARKO KOVAC, SERBIAN DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I want to be very frank: I can only confirm this unofficially. For an official confirmation, you have to wait until the Serbian ministry of justice and the Serbian government issue a formal statement. But, yes, I can confirm unofficially that he has been arrested and he has now has (sic) been brought to see the judge. So he is, right now, in the court.

SESNO: And the judge and the court which he is now facing involved which charges?

KOVAC: Well, as far as I know -- I am really not completely familiar with an indictment -- but as far as I know, financial wrongdoings, embezzlement of public funds and things like these.

SESNO: What is the public reaction? There was a scene outside his home prior to his arrest.

KOVAC: Well, you must understand that Belgrade is a city of more than 1 million people. If only 200 people, and mostly elderly people, came there to try, so to say, to prevent his arrest, this is not much, really; this is just a handful of people. So there is a lot of commotion. Obviously, this is big news here in Serbia, although somehow over the past few weeks everybody was expecting him to be arrested.

SESNO: Now, as I mentioned earlier, he is wanted in The Hague by the International Criminal Court there for alleged war crimes. Do you have any indication as to whether he will be delivered to The Hague? KOVAC: As far as I know, he will stay in Serbia -- for the moment he will face charges here. But I want to be very clear, and I want to state this quite openly, the fact that he's been charged only with these things does not exclude, and I think actually this will happen, that he is going to face further charges, and more and more charges will be against him. I think, ultimately, charges for war crimes at the end.

So the fact that these charges are brought against him right now does not exclude other charges and, perhaps at some point, but not near future -- not in a few weeks or a few months -- he might -- might -- be in The Hague, but we have to see.

SESNO: As you know, and as we have reported, there was a deadline of sorts imposed by the United States of tomorrow to see some progress made toward bringing Mr. Milosevic to justice, that being tied to about $100 million of U.S. aid. How much did that influence the events of today?

KOVAC: Well, frankly we are completely aware of the realities of this world, and obviously no government can function in some vacuum; you have to understand that many things in this world are interconnected. But basically, I must emphasize this, basically he's been arrested when we had sufficient evidence against him.

SESNO: Now let me ask you this before we let you go: Do you have any information, official or otherwise, as to how Mr. Milosevic, one time the strongman of Yugoslavia reacted as police came to his home, sought to take him away? There have been reports that we've seen in recent weeks that he was very depressed and very isolated. Do you have any indication as to how he reacted today?

KOVAC: No, I don't have any direct information. Obviously, the police tried to execute this in a peaceful manner, not to jeopardize anybody's life or safety, and they've been -- they've done it remarkably well. The only thing I can say: Dictators, once they are out of power, are probably the most pitiful sight you can have. So I presume he looks like every dictator that's out of power. The press -- man no more in power, incapable of harming others. I don't think there's much joy watching him now, but I'm extremely pleased to see, and I presume most of my fellow citizens, that ultimately he will go to justice, and we will have, now, to pay the penalty for the politics he was executing the past 10 years.

SESNO: And just before we let you go, would you recap for us, just review for us exactly what you know about what is happening with respect to Mr. Milosevic at this moment?

KOVAC: Well, unofficial, once again -- you must remember my government didn't issue any form of statement -- he's now facing a judge, and after that I presume he'll go to jail.

SESNO: All right. Minister Zarko Kovac, thank you very much; appreciate your time with a very dramatic development in Belgrade.

Now we want to turn to Florence Hartman. She's a prosecutor with the International War Crimes Tribunal. She's on the phone with us now from The Hague. As we mentioned, The Hague and this International War Crimes Tribunal alleges war crimes against -- and crimes against humanity against Slobodan Milosevic for what took place in Kosovo.

Florence Hartman tell us what your response to today's development is?

FLORENCE HARTMAN, U.N. WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL: Well, the arrest of Milosevic is good news for us. It's the first step to a transfer to The Hague. You know that he's indicted from May '99 and we are expecting him in The Hague. And now he's arrested on an indictment for local charges. And due to the gravity of the charges he has in The Hague -- crimes against humanity -- and due to the fact that we are ready for the trial, we are expecting him to be -- hand over to The Hague as soon as possible.

The prosecutor, Mrs. del Ponte, is asking a commitment from the Yugoslav state that he will be transferred to The Hague, and she's asking for this commitment immediately. And that they have time afterwards to decide on the proceeding to keep the investigation for corruption in Belgrade and to transfer him at the same time in The Hague. We are not against the local trial for corruption, but he has, also, to face international justice for the violation of international humanitarian (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and crimes against humanity.

SESNO: Tell us briefly some of what is contained in that indictment. What exactly is Slobodan Milosevic charged with when we hear of war crimes and crimes against humanity?

HARTMAN: Well, he's indicted for Kosovo -- it's a command -- individual command responsibility because he was the chief of his state -- making war in Kosovo and giving orders to the militia and all the forces of Serbia. And you know, that many thousands have been expelled from Kosovo in '99 and many crimes have been committed. And -- but he's also under investigation for crimes committed in Bosnia during the war '92-'95 and for crimes committed during the war in Croatia in '91...

SESNO: Both relating to ethnic cleansing, correct -- both relating to ethnic cleansing?

HARTMAN: Absolutely; absolutely.

SESNO: And finally, this: We heard from the Serbian deputy prime minister just a few moments ago. When I asked him whether the country would, in fact, extradite him to The Hague to face these charge, he said probably, but made it sound like it wouldn't be a very certain or -- certain development, or one that would happen very quickly. He said a period of months, perhaps.

HARTMAN: Well, we are asking that -- to be transferred as soon as possible. But it's why we are asking the Yugoslav state to -- a commitment to transfer him in the Hague, and that's where we could understand they have some proceeding in the next days or weeks. But we want to be sure that they are ready to transfer him to the Hague. It means that they are ready to comply with their international obligation to transfer him to the Hague.

It's not an extradition. There is no legal obstacle for any transfer, and he would have -- and it's a pity that he wasn't arrested on the basis of the indictment. They have, in Belgrade, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the indictment from the Hague tribunal for crimes against humanity.

SESNO: Florence Hartman, speaking to us from the Hague, from the U.N. War Crimes Tribunal. Thank you very much for your time.

We want to take you to the State Department now, where correspondent Andrea Koppel has been tracking this story for quite some time.

Andrea this is a dramatic development and one that this administration, the Bush Administration, here in Washington, had been watching very, very closely, and exerting a fair bit of pressure to see come to pass.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Frank, and it's hard to imagine that with that March 31st deadline for the Bush Administration to certify whether or not Yugoslavia had complied with various requirements laid out by Congress, hard to imagine that the apparent arrest of the former president of Yugoslavia is just a coincidence.

I'm told that State Department officials, those who deal with the Balkans, are huddled in a meeting right now. As things stood before this latest development, Frank, I was told that the people here at State Department really said it could go either way.

Secretary of State Powell hadn't made up his mind on whether to certify or not to certify. In fact, one official told me, he might very well let the May 31st deadline pass, and by doing so, all that would mean is that the $50 million that would have been going to Yugoslavia at some point in the very near future, wouldn't go until he had decided that Yugoslavia had, in fact, complied.

SESNO: Andrea, stand by. Let's go over to the White House now. Major Garrett, White House correspondent, Major, this is an issue that President George W. Bush was working on just earlier today.

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, indeed he was. And what I can tell you, Frank, is the White House has is not officially confirmed, for itself, that this, in fact, has occurred, the arrest of Slobodan Milosevic. It is checking with all of its various sources in the Federal Republic Of Yugoslavia, going through all diplomatic channels to confirm that. As soon as we receive a confirmation, I will pass that along to you.

The White House has been watching this. The president was asked about it today. He discussed what he has been doing on the subject in a photo opportunity with the Brazilian president.

SESNO: Major, let me come back to you one more time on another issue, that is, specifically, what is at stake for the United States on this issue? Andrea was talking about the certification, because there is $100 million of aid in the pipeline, but let us not forget that it was against Slobodan Milosevic, essentially, that the United States and NATO went to war in Kosovo.

GARRETT: Well, there's a couple of things at stake. As the Serbian deputy prime minister said, there is an interconnectedness (sic), and quite clearly, there is. Not only is there that second tranche of $50 million of U.S. Aid, but without the certification from the U.S. Government, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia would be unable to obtain loans from the World Bank or from the International Monetary Fund.

And many diplomats and financiers believe that is as important, if not more important, than that extra $50 million in direct United States aid, and it's also, Frank, part of what this administration would like to see in the new era of the Balkans. They are trying to do their very best to work with the new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia president, Vojislav Kostunica, and it will be very interesting to see how the negotiations proceed.

Mr. Kostunica made it abundantly clear in his campaign for the presidency that he had no intention of handing Mr. Milosevic over to the war crimes tribunal, but would have preferred to try him on war crimes and other charges within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Clearly, the administration is going to offer its opinions on that, as will other world capitals. That will be, apparently, one of the more interesting next turns in this story.

SESNO: Andrea, over to state again. Conditions and strings attached to that U.S. Aid?

KOPPEL: Well, if the Secretary of State decides to check the box, that they've complied, there aren't any conditions. They would get $50 million. But they would have to meet the various requirements set out by the Congress, and at top of that list, Frank, two things: One, that they comply with the International War Crimes Tribunal, Florence Hartman's organization there. And the other, that they release hundreds of ethnic Albanians that the Bush Administration -- from prison -- that the Bush Administration says were unjustly imprisoned by Slobodan Milosevic.

And so it's still quite vague on the first batch of things that they have to do. There are no names mentioned as to who, of the war crimes -- of the war criminals -- would have to be extradited, and there's no exact measurement as to what, in fact, they do -- they would have to do -- in order to comply on that front.

SESNO: Major, let's take just a moment here and underscore the significance of an indictment and an arrest of this sort. This is the first time that a sitting head of state, when Milosevic was president, a sitting head of state was indicted by an international tribunal, along with four subordinates. Now they were charged with murder, deportation and persecution in violation of, what was known as, the "laws and customs of the war," this all, of course, relating to the ethnic cleansing of the time which we recall so well. Significance attached to this by this administration and the United States in terms of other, similar sorts of situations around the world?

GARRETT: Well, significance in this sense, Frank: Absolute continuity with the Clinton Administration on this subject. President Bush, when asked about it today, said, "This administration, just like the one before it, always wanted to see Mr. Milosevic brought to justice."

Not only to, in some ways, deal in a criminal jurisdictional way with the crimes allegedly committed in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the surrounding republics, but to send a signal around the world that these types of crimes will not be tolerated by the United States or the World Tribunal, itself.

And the president said today, again, that the administration wants him brought to justice, the key issue, though, Frank, really is, where will he be brought to justice? And if he is brought to justice, simply in Serbia as part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, will that satisfy this White House, and the World Tribunal and other world capitols.

SESNO: Andrea Koppel.

KOPPEL: Frank, I was going to say that, interestingly, the Bush Administration has not said that it wants Slobodan Milosevic to be extradited before a trial, a future trial in Yugoslavia. It's been very flexible, unlike the War Crimes Tribunal, and has said it's fine, if the Yugoslav government wants to carry out its own trial for alleged tax evasion, et cetera, et cetera, but after that, wants to make sure that after Milosevic has been tried in Yugoslavia, he would then be extradited to the War Crimes Tribunal.

SESNO: And Andrea, just to catch everybody up to date, what is the nature of the relations between the United States and the western nations, the rest of Europe with the new government in Serbia, in Belgrade?

KOPPEL: Well, in comparison with the relationship it had with the government of Slobodan Milosevic, they are warm and fuzzy. The U.S. government just recently sent an ambassador back to Belgrade. The European capitols as well, many governments have sent their envoys back to Belgrade.

And they are all doing, the U.S., and the EU, really, all trying to do as much as they can to support this nascent democracy. Vojislav Kostunica, after all, was democratically elected, and the U.S. hoping, which is what this certification process is all about, that it can give the Yugoslav government more money so that they can further build democracy and have other humanitarian programs.

SESNO: Major, let me come back to you on one other related topic, and that is the posture of the United States and peacekeeping troops in Kosovo, itself. The aftermath of the war, of course, is that NATO and the United States had a peacekeeping -- an ongoing peacekeeping roll -- subject of debate, in this administration, is the degree to which U.S. forces will remain a part of that. What is the latest?

GARRETT: Well, the latest is steady as she goes. Looking at the situation in Macedonia, the United States, through this administration, has stepped up its efforts to help the Macedonian government deal with what they describe as Albanian extremists coming over from Kosovo interfering and trying to undermine, in the eyes of the Bush Administration, the legitimate Macedonian government. And also dealing with NATO allies to try to keep that situation under control as best as possible, and assist the Macedonian government in dealing with that, trying to give them the upper hand in the clashes with the Albanian extremists.

And also continuing deliberations with NATO governments over the entire question of how long the peacekeeping forces should stay there, no full resolution on that. The situation in Macedonia has, sort of, risen up and become more of the central issue right now and a central debating point for this administration and its NATO allies. The larger issue, about the longevity of peacekeeping forces in the entire region, has taken a bit of a back seat.

SESNO: Andrea, where is the U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in all of this?

KOPPEL: Well, actually, Frank, I was going to raise the example. Secretary of State Powell and others in the Bush administration, contrary to the situation two years ago when things were going on in Kosovo, and the U.S. and NATO was backing the ethnic Albanians, now in fact, the Bush administration and its NATO allies are actually trying to help the government of Vojislav Kostunica, in particular in the situation not only with Macedonia, but also between Serbia and Kosovo.

There is a border area and in fact, just last week, Yugoslav forces were allowed to move back into that border area, and it was NATO that was backing that movement because of the violence that's been perpetrated by ethnic Albanian extremists, Frank.

SESNO: Andrea Koppel at the State Department; Major Garrett at the White House, thanks to you both. And for those of our viewers who are just now joining us, a recap. We can tell you that former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, in a dramatic turn of events, has been arrested by Serbian police from his home earlier this evening. There you see the cars, we believe, taking Mr. Milosevic, we are told, by the Serbian deputy prime minister, to a court where he appeared before a judge. He is charged with tax evasion and other -- other actions during his tenure, in Belgrade itself, but as we are also hearing of more international attention and prominent attention.

And that, of course, is the allegation of crimes against humanity. And for that, he was indicted by the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal, and that is going to be the subject of intense scrutiny in Washington and capitals around the world as this case now moves forward, to see if he will go to The Hague to stand trial for war crimes.

We are going to take a break. We'll be right back after this.

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