Sat, Sep 09, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Serbian president striving to exorcise Milosevic's legacy

AP , WASHINGTON

Seven years after the NATO-led Kosovo war, Serbian President Boris Tadic is attempting to overcome the stigma of "the Milosevic experience" by joining international peacekeeping operations far from home and trying to hasten the healing process in the violence-prone Balkan region.

In an interview on Thursday, Tadic said one of his biggest frustrations is to convince the US and Europeans that he is genuinely eager to track down former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic for delivery to the war crimes tribunal in the Netherlands.

"This is really tough for me to explain. This is in our own interest. I'm expecting understanding and support regarding this technical issue of how to capture this man and send him to The Hague," Tadic said.

He spoke to a reporter in his hotel suite after having met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, National Security adviser Stephen Hadley and congressional leaders. He also delivered a speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation. He also met with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld yesterday.

Mladic, a fugitive from Bosnia's 1992-95 war, was indicted by The Hague court for laying siege to Sarajevo and masterminding the massacre of thousands of men and boys in 1995 in Srebrenica.

Successive US administrations have maintained that Mladic is hiding out in Serbia, but Tadic said there is no proof of that allegation, nor is it clear whether the general is even alive.

He agreed with the proposition that it was unfair for the US and other countries to link their relations with Serbia to the capture of a single individual.

"This is our reality. This is one of the legacies of the Milosevic experience," he said. Former President Slobodan Milosevic guided his country through devastating wars during the 1990's before he was ousted from power and taken before The Hague court.

He died last March, four years after his war crimes trial began.

The Kosovo war took place during Milosevic's last full year in office. NATO aerial bombings helped stop the ethnic cleansing of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo by Milosevic's army.

The province has been under UN administration since then, and UN-led talks are under way in Vienna to decide the Serbian province's future status. Tadic said the talks are not going well from Belgrade's viewpoint.

Hoping to put the Milosevic legacy behind his country, Tadic is working with parliament to approve the dispatch of Serb peacekeepers to Lebanon and Afghanistan, gestures certain the win a measure of good will from Washington.

"This is how we are showing our future contribution to stability and how we are sharing responsibility for peaceful processes in the world," he said.

If approved, he said, Serb doctors and soldiers assigned to Afghanistan will be incorporated into a Norwegian unit.

During his discussions in Washington, Tadic has been trying to rein in seeming American enthusiasm for supporting the independence dreams of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

If Kosovo Albanians should succeed, he said, it would trigger a wave of destabilizing independence claims by nationalist groups in other countries of the region.

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