Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica says the transfer of Slobodan Milosevic to the Hague war crimes court is not on the agenda for now and criticizes Milosevic's arrest as "clumsy and not well thought out."
"The Hague is not in our thoughts at the moment, especially not in my thoughts at all, with all the other problems occupying this country at the moment such as the problems in southern Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro and poverty," said Kostunica.
Any hope that might give Milosevic - jailed, but in living conditions that are the envy of other inmates - must be tempered by the comments of Serbian leaders who say the investigation of the former Yugoslavian president has been widened.
"There are indications that Slobodan Milosevic was involved in severe criminal acts for which the death penalty is provided," said Dusan Mihajlovic, Serbia's Interior Minister.
Serbia's prime minister, Zoran Djindjic, is also turning up the heat on Milosevic. In a Boston Globe interview, Djindjic predicts Milosevic will be charged within two months with ordering the murders of personal and political enemies, and his wife, Mirjana Marcovic, will also be accused of murder.
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Commenting on those possible developments, Mihajlovic joked that Milosevic might wind up surrendering to the United Nations war crimes tribunal, since it does not have the power to order executions.
Milosevic himself has remained defiant, denouncing his arrest as "politically staged" and, in a written statement, admitting for the first time that he financed Serb rebellions that bloodied Bosnia and Croatia in the 1990s.
The tribunal has indicted Milosevic for crimes against humanity stemming from his crackdown on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo in 1999. The U.S. and other Western governments have pressured Belgrade to extradite him.
Any decision to transfer Milosevic to the International War Crimes Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague "does not fall within my competences," Kostunica told reporters Tuesday, at his first news conference since the arrest.
"However, as a president, I must have a stand on this issue and my stand is: The extradition of Slobodan Milosevic or this kind of cooperation with The Hague is not a topic in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia at the moment."
AP Milosevic's wife, Mirjana Markovic, talks with a prison guard after visiting her husband. Serbia's prime minister is predicting that she may face murder charges.
The trial of Milosevic, accused of diverting state funds for himself and his party, "should be as non-political as possible," Kostunica said. He must answer "primarily to his own people."
Kostunica said he was not properly informed of the bid to arrest Milosevic, which began late on Friday afternoon, and had received his first official report some 12 hours after the action began.
"The police action got off to a very uncoordinated start and without enough reports - I remind you that I got the first written report on March 31 at around 8 a.m.," said Kostunica, who was in Switzerland when police first moved in.
Asked about charges by the reformist government that senior army officers tried to block the arrest, Kostunica said the army had acted correctly throughout the process.
"Everything the Yugoslav Army did during Milosevic's apprehension for the investigating judge was done in absolute accord with the effective regulations, and this applies to all ranking Yugoslav Army officers," he said.
Kostunica said Milosevic bore great responsibility for damage to the country, but he also blamed the international community for the violent break-up of Yugoslavia.
He said he was confident that the United States would not carry out a threat to block an aid donors' conference for Yugoslavia due in the summer.
Officials were driven off by armed guards when they first tried to take Milosevic into custody on Friday. A second attempt using anti-terrorist commandos resulted in a shootout with four policemen injured and a second retreat.
Milosevic, who was armed with handgun during the tense 36-hour stand-off, gave himself up after lengthy negotiations, but not before vowing at one point that he would never be taken alive.
His arrest came just hours before a U.S. deadline for Yugoslavia to prove it is serious about cooperating with the war crimes tribunal, in order to be eligible for an additional $50 million in U.S. aid.
The State Department said Monday that the cash will be released now that Milosevic is behind bars, but future assistance hinges on cooperation with the U.N. court.