The upper house of the Yugoslav parliament has passed a bill that would clear the way for Belgrade to send suspected war criminals to the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague. If the bill is approved by both houses of parliament, it is expected to result in the unblocking of millions of dollars in U.S. aid.
Yugoslavia's coalition government sent the bill to Parliament late Tuesday, after coming up with a compromise that would transfer all Yugoslav citizens currently under indictment by the war crimes tribunal to The Hague. But it specifies that all future indictments will be dealt with first by national courts.
Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica has long insisted that his country needs a law regulating extradition before handing over suspects, although prosecutors at The Hague tribunal say such a law is unnecessary.
Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic of Serbia, Yugoslavia's dominant republic, engineered the extradition last year of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who is currently on trial in The Hague. But his move was unpopular at home, and he was reluctant to act again without getting Mr. Kostunica to share the political responsibility.
Opponents of the bill say it violates the Yugoslav constitution and is a humiliating concession to the United States.
The U.S. Congress recently froze millions of dollars in aid to Belgrade after Yugoslav authorities failed to meet a March 31 deadline to show concrete cooperation with the war crimes tribunal.
Mr. Djindjic has argued that the resumption of U.S. financial assistance - and U.S. approval of loans by international lending institutions - is urgent if Yugoslavia is to rebuild its economy, which has been shattered by a decade of war, sanctions and mismanagement.
Diplomats say three close associates of former President Milosevic are likely to be the first Yugoslavs to be handed over to the war crimes tribunal under a new extradition law.
Former army commander Dragoljub Ojdanic, former deputy prime minister Nikola Sainovic and former Serbian interior minister Vlajko Stojilijkovic are all charged with atrocities committed during Mr. Milosevic's crackdown on ethnic Albanians in the Serbian province of Kosovo in 1998 and 1999.