SCMP Saturday, October 7, 2000

Milosevic concedes but wants to stay in politics

REUTERS in Belgrade

Slobodan Milosevic, who presided over the destruction of Yugoslavia, on Friday accepted election defeat at the hands of president-elect Vojislav Kostunica in what appeared to be a bloodless transition of power.
Addressing the Yugoslav nation on the only major television station still under his control, Milosevic congratulated Dr Kostunica on his election victory and said his Socialist Party would be strong in opposition and he would play a part.
Looking weary and drawn before the TV cameras, Milosevic made his address just an hour after meeting Dr Kostunica alone in their first ever face-to-face encounter.
''I congratulate Vojislav Kostunica on his election victory and I wish our nation success over the next term,'' Milosevic said in a brief recorded statement to Yu-Info television.
''I've just got official information that Vojislav Kostunica won the elections,'' he said, adding that a ruling by the Constitutional Court confirming Dr Kostunica's victory had to be respected.
Dr Kostunica is expected to be sworn in as president by the new parliament, elected at the same time as the president, on Saturday afternoon.
The meeting between the two men in a government building in Belgrade began with the words ''Good Evening''. They introduced themselves and shook hands before retiring behind closed doors for talks lasting almost an hour.
The events appeared to diffuse remaining tension in Yugoslavia, where opposition supporters feared Milosevic and his backers would use violence to keep hold of power.
But in a city rife with rumour, unconfirmed reports said two buses packed with police loyal to Milosevic were headed for the capital after nightfall, suggesting confrontation.
None of these reports could be substantiated. But the rumours coincided with an opposition statement which warned that Milosevic was trying to use the police to provoke civil war to regain power.
The statement was later withdrawn and then re-released in almost the same form in the name of just one of the opposition leaders.
Opposition supporters working at the National Bank of Yugoslavia crashed the bank's central computer earlier on Friday to halt what Mr Dinkic said was an attempt by a clique surrounding Milosevic to spirit foreign currency reserves to their bank accounts abroad.
If any doubts remained over other security forces, the head of Yugoslavia's army, embroiled in four wars since the old Yugoslav federation began to crumble in 1991, said the armed forces would respect the will of the people.
''Members of the Yugoslav army, strictly respecting constitutional rulings, did not take part in the political struggle, are ready to accept the people's will and all the legitimate decisions of the electoral institutions,'' Lieutenant General Nebojsa Pavkovic said in comments read out on Yu-Info.
The army said later that conditions were fulfilled for working relations with the new president.
In other developmens, US President Bill Clinton overnight (HK time) lauded Yugoslav president-elect Vojislav Kostunica, saying the opposition leader ''prevailed in a quiet and dignified and persistent way''.
Dr Kostunica is ''a leader who has often publicly disagreed with me and my policies, who is a patriotic nationalist of his country, but who believes in the rule of law and obviously the democratic process,'' Mr Clinton told guests at a Washington fund-raiser.
Earlier, Russia delivered the most serious blow yet to Milosevic, belatedly falling in line with Western powers in recognising the victory of Dr Kostunica in the September 24 elections.
Yugoslav television showed pictures of Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov meeting a tired-looking Milosevic at his Belgrade residence.
On Thursday, more than 300,000 people flooded into Belgrade in joyous scenes reminiscent of the fall of the Berlin Wall, demanding Milosevic concede defeat by Dr Kostunica. Security forces melted away before a flood of people who took over Parliament and the state television building. Two people were killed and several injured.
Western powers have struggled over how to approach the endgame for Milosevic, insisting he face a war crimes tribunal but desperate for a peaceful resolution and good relations with the new regime.
Milosevic would "very soon" be indicted on charges of genocide in Bosnia and Croatia, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Carla Del Ponte, said in the Kosovo capital, Pristina. Dr Kostunica has refused to consider extraditing him, describing the Hague tribunal as "a tool of political pressure of the US administration".
But Ms Albright was adamant Milosevic must face trial after being indicted for war crimes in Kosovo. "We have made our position on ex-president Milosevic very clear," she said.