Wednesday, June 15, 2005 at 11:35 AM
Last week’s announcement by the US State Department of the release of $10 million in conditional aid to Serbia-Montenegro was contrived even by Washington standards. After all, it was touted as a reward for Belgrade’s fulfillment of the principled conditions Washington placed on that aid even though those conditions have clearly not been met.
In 2002, the US government established a $100 million foreign aid fund for the economically strapped and politically conflicted federation of Serbia-Montenegro (Belgrade) to be disbursed with Pavlovian control. And, the trick Belgrade was required to perform was to demonstrate to Washington that it was fully cooperating with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the apprehension and prosecution of Serbs indicted on war crimes.
Image from the public screening last week of a video apparently showing the rounding up and execution of Muslim civilians in Srebrenica at the hands of Serb paramilitaries in 1995. The video shocked some Serbs but many believe it’s a fake and that Serb soldiers never committed any atrocities whatsoever!
The indictments stem from crimes that were allegedly committed during Balkan hostilities that broke out in 1998 over control of Kosovo between Serb nationalists and ethnic Albanians who comprised the overwhelming majority of the population in that province of Serbia. They stem also from the ruthless campaigns of ethnic cleansing that were perpetrated by Bosnian Serbs, Muslims and Croats – all against each other – for control of the republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the early 1990s. In both cases, however, the US condemned Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic for fomenting war to squash ethnic Albanian and Bosnian Muslim hopes for independence under the pretext of protecting minority Serbs.
At any rate, the ICTY indicted many political and military officials from all three factions embroiled in these conflicts including Kosovo’s Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj (now awaiting trial in The Hague). The ICTY made it clear, however, that its principal targets were the former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic (1995), former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic (1995) and Milosevic (1999) all of whom were indicted on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity including “murder, forcible transfer, deportation and persecution on political, racial or religious grounds”.
But where a popular uprising against Milosevic sealed his arrest and transfer to The Hague for trial in 2001, the notorious Mladic and Karadzic remain at-large. And, it is in this context that Washington imposed conditions on the disbursement of aid to Belgrade. In fact, military intelligence indicated that Belgrade was actively abetting Karadzic and Mladic in their flight from justice and Washington assumed that the promise of aid might induce it to facilitate their arrest and transfer.
Yet from the moment the fund was established, the dynamics between Belgrade and Washington took on the spectacle of, well, the tail wagging the dog. After all, under the leadership of Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, Belgrade refused to honour the agreed conditions. Instead, it argued that negotiating the voluntary surrender of these suspects was the more prudent way for it to assist the ICTY. And, to appease Washington, Belgrade pointed to a succession of surrenders by former aides to Mladic (including Zdravko Tolimir, Milan Gvero and Radivoje Miletic) as sufficient evidence of its performance to be rewarded with financial disbursements.
But Washington was clearly being wagged. For example, despite declaring in January of this year that Belgrade was not cooperating fully with the ICTY, Washington made quite a fuss last week about that $10 million disbursement without any evidence to the contrary. Moreover, this comes after a similar declaration last year that Belgrade was failing to cooperate which, nonetheless, was also followed in short order by $73.6 million in disbursements (albeit, ostensibly, “in assistance to organisations and programmes outside of the central government” in Belgrade).
Of course, Washington’s quagmire in Iraq and its feckless hunt for Osama bin Laden provide the only explanation for Belgrade’s apparent leverage in this respect. Indeed, Washington is acutely aware how politically compromising it would be to withhold promised funds because of Belgrade’s failure to apprehend Mladic and Karadzic when Belgrade can justify its failure so poignantly by pointing to Washington’s failure to arrest Zarqawi in Iraq or Osama bin Laden, wherever he may be.
Therefore, under these circumstances, both Washington and Belgrade seem to appreciate the political expediency of serving up a few small fish to The Hague instead of risking embarrassment and, perhaps, many lives in an attempt to arrest the two big fish (Mladic and Karadzic).
Nevertheless, with media reports swirling in the US and Serbia last week about planning or negotiating for the imminent arrest or surrender of Mladic (and possibly Karadzic too), US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns conveyed the impression that the $10 million disbursement was linked to a new pledge by Belgrade to finally cooperate fully with the ICTY:
My strong impression from my discussions in Belgrade is that the government is working very seriously to find General Mladic and there will be a sincere attempt to capture him or to have him voluntarily surrender and to send him to The Hague….We are confident that his days in relative freedom are numbered.
Notwithstanding Burn’s statement, however, Belgrade continued its confounding behavior by immediately denying any such initiative to bring Mladic to justice. In fact, it turns out that reports about Belgrade’s new spirit of compliance may have more to do with appeasing the European Union than executing conditions set by Washington. Because the indefatigable Chief prosecutor of the ICTY Carla Del Ponte seems convinced that her release of the video documenting Serb atrocities and insistence by the EU that Belgrade demonstrates full cooperation with her tribunal before talks on joining the EU (scheduled for October) can commence will, at last, compel Belgrade to give up Mladic and Karadzic.
Carla Del Ponte: Like Inspector Javert’s pursuit of fugitive Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, Del Ponte has vowed a principled and relentless pursuit of Mladic and Karadzic and insists that her mandate will not expire until they are brought to justice in The Hague.