US seeks war crime amnesty for Serb leader

China is seen as haven if Milosevic gives up power

Julian Borger, Helena Smith

Tuesday June 20, 2000

Washington/Athens - It bombed his home, put a bounty on his head and branded him a monster who could never be forgiven, but the United States is quietly seeking a way out for Slobodan Milosevic that would leave his bank account intact.

Despite denials, US officials are considering ways to allow the Yugoslav president to leave office without a war crimes trial at the Hague. In what may turn out to be the Balkan endgame, the US is signalling the possibility of a secure retirement for the man blamed for setting Yugoslavia aflame.

Amid reports that Mr Milosevic is transferring his family fortune to China, officials leaked claims that his emissaries have approached Washington and Athens with proposals for his ceding power in exchange for an amnesty.

The war crimes tribunal in the Hague insisted yesterday that the Yugoslav leader would have nowhere to hide, but President Bill Clinton's yearning for a historic legacy is said to be opening doors to a deal.

The US is using Greece as an intermediary to discuss bolt holes, the New York Times reported yesterday.

"If we were presented with a hard and fast offer that would get Milosevic out of power, we'd have to think very hard before saying no," a senior US administration official said.

The revelation follows rumours in Belgrade that Mr Milosevic wants out, exhausted by defeat in Kosovo, indict ment by the Hague and economic meltdown.

His wife, Mira Markovic, haunted by the fate of Romania's executed first couple, Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu, fears that events are spinning out of control, according to leaks from their tight circle of friends. Mr Milosevic's political allies have been assassinated in a wave of unexplained shootings.

At the beginning of the year and with Washington's blessing, Greece dispatched envoys to Belgrade to discuss exit scenarios for him and his family. The former Greek prime minister, Constantine Mitsotakis, is willing to act as an interlocutor between the west and Mr Milosevic, his "close friend" and sailing partner.

Mr Mitsotakis, who belongs to the opposition New Democracy party, has a reputation as the only western politician the Yugoslav leader trusts.

Last week Mr Mitsotakis reportedly vowed to undertake the mission if the US guaranteed that it was serious and that he was not made an "international laughing stock".

Denying the New York Times report, the state department yesterday repeated the official position tha Washington would never contemplate offering Mr Milosevic an amnesty from war crimes.

Any international amnesty deal behind the back of the Hague tribunal would seriously undermine its authority in administering justice in the wake of the Croatian, Bosnian and Kosovo wars.

Last year the US slapped down opposition leaders in Serbia who sought to arrange an asylum deal for Mr Milosevic as a means of ensuring a peaceful transition of power.

"If there is any place where he seeks sanctuary, I would recommend the Hague," the US defence secretary, William Cohen, said at the time. Washington has offered a $5m reward for information leading to Mr Milosevic's arrest and delivery to the Hague tribunal.

One year on, however, the Serbian opposition remains as divided as ever and apparently no closer to ousting Mr Milosevic under its own steam. Disillusionment has made the people of Belgrade sceptical of suggestions that he may step down. The rumours tend to be believed only by senior opposition figures. "Wishful thinking. They've screwed it up so that's all they've left," said one Belgrade shop assistant.

But the Clinton administration is running out of time, and is deeply concerned about its final balance sheet. Greek officials at the foreign ministry said they believed Mr Milosevic was biding his time until the US presidential election - a view echoed in Belgrade - in the hope of a Republican victory.

A British diplomat said the Clinton administration's hopes were deluded. "I don't see why he would do it. It's more dangerous for him to quit than it is to stay put."

Once he cedes power Mr Milosevic will lose all his bargaining chips. Though he is beleaguered, the official opposition in Serbia is in disarray and unpopular. The police and army remain loyal. Street protests have fizzled out.

One Nato country official insisted, however, that an amnesty was on the cards, saying: "It's in the best solution for everyone, and they [Nato] could spin it as victory. There is a strong argument that democracy should be put ahead of the person."

Greece, Belarus and Iraq are believed to be among countries ready to provide a haven. Shortly after the Bosnian war the Serb monastery on the self-governing Republic of Mount Athos, in northern Greece, prepared accommodation for Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic, though both remained in Serbia.

According to the Serb opposition leader, Zoran Djindjic, Mr Milosevic has also been offered asylum in China. Of all possible bolt-holes, that is the most likely. His son, Marko, is believed to have recently flown to Beijing to negotiate transfers of family funds with officials in the government, with which his mother's Marxist party, the Yugoslav United Left, enjoys excellent relations.

Chinese money has been pouring into Belgrade since the end of the Kosovo bombing. Advertisements in China encouraging nationals to emigrate have increased the number of Chinese people living in Serbia to nearly 100,000.

However last year's indictment as a war criminal would complicate any deal. James Landale, the Hague tribunal's spokesman, said yesterday: "The mandate of the tribunal is handed down by the security council. All states are obliged to cooperate. Anyone who is indicted is indicted for life. No one can nullify or dismiss an indictment, other than the security council."

Any package deal for Mr Milosevic will have to include his unceasingly loyal wife. "My husband is a perfect man," she wrote in her regular column in a women's magazine.

The war leaders: at home, in prison - or dead

Radovan Karadzic The Bosnian Serb wartime leader who was charged with crimes against humanity and genocide is still living in seclusion in his home in Pale. The S-For peacekeeping troops patrolling the area have been reluctant to storm his house for fear of casualties.

Ratko Mladic The Bosnian Serbs' top general, who is living in retirement in the Yugoslav capital, is also wanted for genocide. He commanded the constant shelling of Sarajevo and the massacre of more than 7,000 Muslim men from Srebrenica. His full address is: 119 Blagoja Parovica, Banovo Brdo, Belgrade. He likes to go to horse races and football matches, and continues to draw a monthly pension from the Yugoslav government.

Zeljko Raznjatovic, known as Arkan. The leader of the paramilitary group the Tigers was charged last year in a sealed indictment, which was thought to include his role in massacres in Croatia in 1991, Bosnia in 1992 and possibly in Kosovo last year. He was gunned down in a Belgrade hotel soon after the indictment was issued. At the time of his murder, he had been exploring his options, sounding out at least one western country for asylum.

Momcilo Krajisnik Karadzic's right-hand man, and the most senior war crimes suspect to have been captured by Nato troops and delivered to the Hague, in April this year. He is accused of genocide and crimes against humanity for his part in implementing a policy of ethnic cleansing across Bosnia from 1991 to 1995.

Dusan Tadic Convicted on 11 war crimes counts by the Hague tribunal in 1997 for his part in running the horrific Omarska camp in the Bosnian Serb Republic where inmates, mostly Muslims, were tortured, raped and killed. He is currently appealing against his sentence.

Original article