The United States has decided to withhold $10m in assistance to Serbia-Montenegro due to its continuing lack of co-operation with the UN war crimes tribunal, including its failure to arrest and hand over Ratko Mladic and other war crimes indictees.
(Reuters, VOA, Big News Network - 14/01/05; US Department of State, AP, AFP, UPI - 13/01/05; Beta - 12/01/05)
"In light of the continuing record of non co-operation, the secretary has decided to withhold $10m in assistance for fiscal year 2005," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. [AFP]
US Secretary of State Colin Powell decided on Thursday (13 January) to withhold $10m in assistance to Serbia-Montenegro for the 2005 fiscal year due to the country's continuing lack of co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). That amount comes on top of the more than $16m that was held last year for the same reason.
In 2002, the US Congress approved a three-year economic and financial assistance package worth some $100m in support of Serbia-Montenegro's recovery from the Balkan conflicts in the 1990s. However, release of the funds was made conditional on periodic certifications by the secretary of state that Belgrade is adequately supporting the ICTY.
The required co-operation includes ensuring investigators' access to documents and witnesses and the handover of war crimes indictees wanted by the ICTY.
In March 2004, the secretary declined to certify to Congress that Serbia-Montenegro was co-operating with the tribunal, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said in a written statement on Thursday. Therefore, a significant portion of the planned aid for the period after 31 March 2004 was withheld.
"Since the secretary's decision last March, there has been no improvement in Serbia-Montenegro's co-operation with the tribunal," the statement noted.
Thursday's move is viewed as a sign of Washington's growing frustration with the government of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, who has opposed the arrest of war crimes indictees, advocating their surrender instead.
In recent months, Belgrade has come under mounting pressure to arrest and hand over all those indicted by the UN tribunal. Both the EU and NATO have made Belgrade's co-operation with the ICTY, particularly the extradition of former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic to The Hague, a key condition for Serbia-Montenegro's Euro-Atlantic integration.
Mladic and former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic top the list of ICTY indictees still at large. Recent revelations showed that Mladic is receiving a pension from the Serbia-Montenegro Army, from which he retired in 2001 -- six years after he was initially indicted by the UN tribunal.
Boucher said Powell is prepared to review Wednesday's decision provided the Belgrade authorities take action to arrest and hand over suspects.
"We call on the authorities in Belgrade to co-operate fully with the tribunal by arresting and transferring fugitive indictees, particularly Ratko Mladic, to face justice in The Hague," the spokesman said.
Meanwhile, he added, the United States is considering alternative ways to use the assistance allocated for Serbia-Montenegro. "In designing our aid package this year, we have redirected funds away from the central government, focusing our $73.6m in assistance to organisations and programmes outside of the central government that are committed to reform," Boucher noted.
On Wednesday, Belgrade-based Beta news agency quoted Serbian Local Administration Minister Zoran Loncar, who is also a member of the Serbia-Montenegro Council for Co-operation with the ICTY, as saying that authorities would "soon fulfil all obligations towards The Hague tribunal, including the extradition of the indicted".