"Slobo!" "Slobo!" Many people in Yugoslavia thought that this cry was something that had been relegated into the annuls of history. However, soon after Yugoslav Interior Minister Zoran Živković appeared on Serbian State Television (RTS) announcing that a warrant for the arrest of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević had been issued, hundreds of faithful supporters gathered outside Milošević's residence chanting: "Slobo! We will never give you up!"
Milošević still holds appeal for some
Slobodan Milošević was forcefully removed from the position of Yugoslav President last October after general and presidential elections on 26 September 2000 confirmed that the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS), headed by Vojislav Koštunica, had won a comprehensive victory.
Milošević has spent the last six months under house arrest in Belgrade. But, his presence in the presidential residence—formerly the home of Josip Broz Tito—has brought continued pressure from the international community for his extradition to the United Nations International War Crimes Tribunal.
Those who gathered outside the presidential residence arrived brandishing clubs, and other such weapons, offering support to their "socialist leader." It is apparent that Milošević still holds a certain appeal—for some.
Confusion over events
Initial reports emanating from Serbia were somewhat confused. Government officials unofficially announced to the local media that Milošević had been arrested. It was rumoured that local police entered the former President's residence to begin peaceful negotiations for Milošević's voluntary surrender. A convoy of vehicles also arrived and was believed to have taken Milošević to the Palace of Justice.
However, members of Milošević's Socialist Party (SPS) had walked out of the Serbian parliament in protest of his impending arrest on Friday 30 March. Later that evening they still denied that Milošević had indeed been arrested. Zivorad Igić, a senior member of the SPS, told BBC reporters on the telephone that he was actually inside the villa with Milošević at the time he was suspected to be at the Palace of Justice. (BBC News Online, 30 March 2001)
Early on the morning of Saturday 31 March Milošević made an appearance in front of his home and supporters. Rumours again spread suggesting that Milošević had been arrested but was released and allowed to return to his residence where he would remain under "house arrest."
Amidst all the chaos and circulating rumours it was evident that tensions were mounting amongst the Milošević supporters. Riot police were called in to disperse the crowd and a violent tussle ensued. Yugoslav Police then stormed the Milošević home, battling with his personal security guards who ring his residence as protection against the outer ring of Yugoslav police guarding his home on behalf of the authorities.
Later on Saturday morning Serbian Interior Minister Dušan Mihajlović finally released an official statement at a press conference saying that Milošević would remain under house arrest until he agreed to stand before a Magistrate. Mihajlović also confirmed that there had been a violent stand off at the home of Milošević and that some members of the army had refused to follow orders, indicating their support for their former leader.
Milošević has been charged with numerous criminal offences including corruption, the abuse of power, illegal earnings and the theft of state funds whilst in power. Mihajlović stated that Milošević would not be extradited to The Hague.
Why arrest Milošević now?
The attempted arrest comes just 24 hours prior to the ultimatum set by the United States for Yugoslavia to begin co-operating with the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague. It has been reported that if the Koštunica administration failed to take action on the ICTY's indictment of Milošević sanctions would be re-imposed on Yugoslavia. Such a move could mean a loss of USD 50 million in aid: something that Yugoslavia cannot afford.
The pressure from the United States adds to pressure from the European Union. On 31 January 2001, Swedish President Goran Persson (Sweden is the current holder of the EU rotating presidency) demanded the extradition of Milošević to The Hague where he would be tried for war crimes committed during the 1999 Kosovo conflict, and for the abuse of human rights.
The Koštunica administration has been pushed into a corner, trying to detract attention from the calls for Milošević's extradition by focusing on the crisis on the Serb-Kosovo border. However, time has run out and Koštunica now has to play an astute diplomatic game if Milošević is to remain within Yugoslavia, and to be tried for his crimes in his home nation.
Many Yugoslavs believe that Milošević should be tried on home soil: the Yugoslavs have suffered at the hands of Milošević so they should be the ones to bring him to justice. This sentiment is not shared by the United States, or the EU, who perhaps feel that any trial on Yugoslav soil will be biased.
Playing the diplomatic game
The Koštunica administration seems unlikely to relinquish Milošević to The Hague in the immediate future. At present, a law on the extradition of Yugoslav nationals to another country does not exist in the Yugoslav legal system. However, a draft law on co-operation with The Hague is currently awaiting approval. Until the law is approved it will be very difficult for the United States to push Koštunica into extraditing Milošević.
Nonetheless, Koštunica cannot take the risk and has been making overtones to the United States. In the week prior to the attempted arrest of Milošević, eight of his aides were arrested including his party deputy. It has been argued that these arrests are hoped to generate the evidence to put Milošević behind bars.
Playing each other in the diplomatic game, the United States and Yugoslavia are adding to the confusion surrounding the fate of Slobodan Milošević. There have been announcements that Milošević has been arrested, followed by announcements that Milošević is still residing at home and has not been arrested. Milošević has resisted attempts for his forcible arrest saying that he "would not go to jail alive." (BBC News Online, 31 March 2001). Outside his residence his supporters chant: "Slobo! We will never give you up!"
Catherine Lovatt, 2 April 2001
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