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United States Withholds $7 Million in Aid from Serbia-Montenegro

Washington -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has decided to withhold from Serbia-Montenegro $7 million in assistance for fiscal year 2006 because of Belgrade's continuing lack of cooperation with the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

The United States long has emphasized the importance of apprehending wartime leaders who have been implicated in war crimes, and U.S. law prohibits assistance to the central government of Serbia-Montenegro unless the secretary of state certifies that it has taken action to cooperate with the war crimes tribunal. U.S. assistance first was withheld in 2004 for the same reason.

"Humanitarian aid for the Serbian people and assistance for strengthening democracy will continue to be available to those who are working to overcome the past and are looking to the future," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack in a May 31 statement announcing Rice's decision.

Noting that Rice certified Serbia-Montenegro as cooperating with the war crimes tribunal in June 2005, McCormack said, "there has been little notable cooperation with the Tribunal since that time." (See related article.)

"The United States wishes to strengthen relations with Serbia and help it become a fully successful, secure, and democratic nation that is integrated into Euro-Atlantic structures," McCormack said. "However, Serbia must meet its international obligations."

While hosting Bosnian political leaders November 22, 2005, at the State Department, Rice reiterated that former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic and his former military commander, Ratko Mladic, must face justice at the war crimes tribunal - the ICTY -- in The Hague, Netherlands. (See related article.)

"To enjoy the full blessings of integration, Bosnia and Herzegovina must fully confront the demons of its past," she said, "in particular, the urgent and long-overdue need to bring to justice war criminals, like Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic." Mladic and Karadzic are alleged to have led the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica, Bosnia, in which ethnic Serb forces massacred as many as 8,000 Muslim men and boys.

"America's position is clear and uncompromising," Rice said. "Every Balkan country must arrest its indicted war criminals, or it will have no future in NATO."

Because of the close relationship between the Bosnian-Serb authorities in Banja Luka and the Serb government in Belgrade, the United States has maintained that both entities bear a special responsibility to find these criminals and bring them to justice.

Under Secretary of State R. Nicholas Burns also has said the U.S. position on war criminals "is uncompromising."

"We will not support Bosnia-Herzegovina or Serbia Montenegro for membership in NATO's Partnership for Peace until this problem is resolved," Burns said in November 2005 at the U.S. Institute of Peace. (See related article.)

McCormack concluded his May 31 statement by calling on authorities in Belgrade "to cooperate fully with the Tribunal, to include the arrest and transfer of fugitive indictees, particularly Ratko Mladic, to face justice in The Hague."

"As Serbia Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said, 'by hiding, Ratko Mladic is inflicting great harm to [Serbian] state and national interests,'" McCormack observed.

The war in Bosnia began in 1992 after Bosnia declared independence from Serb-led Yugoslavia. The ethnic Muslim-dominated Bosniak government in Sarajevo originally fought to preserve the country's distinctive multiethnic way of life, while many Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats sought to maintain ties with neighboring Yugoslavia and Croatia. Many ethnic Serbs and Croats also questioned whether Muslims would guarantee their rights, and some feared an independent Bosniak government would lead to a rise in Islamic fundamentalism.

After some 3.5 years of war and 250,000 dead, U.S. and NATO air forces intervened, destroying Serb command posts, which allowed Croat and Bosniak ground forces to make important territorial gains. The Dayton Peace Accords were then reached on November 21, 1995.

In December 2005, Croatian and Spanish authorities announced the arrest of General Ante Gotovina, who was indicted in 2001 by the ICTY for alleged war crimes against Serbs in Croatia.

"With the success of its considerable efforts to locate and bring Gotovina to justice, Croatia significantly strengthens its candidacy for its eventual full Euro-Atlantic integration," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a prepared statement at the time, going on to urge the authorities in Belgrade and Banja Luka to follow suit. (See related article.)

McCormack said Rice is prepared to review her decision to withhold assistance "if future actions by the Government of Serbia and Montenegro demonstrate its cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia."

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