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Bush Ends Freeze of Yugo Aid - 2002-05-21

The Bush administration has ended a freeze on economic aid to Yugoslavia because it is cooperating with the U.N. war crimes tribunal at the Hague. International loans and about $40 million in economic aid is involved.

Although some of the most wanted Balkans war-crimes suspects remain at large, U.S. officials have said the Belgrade government has taken serious steps in recent weeks in support of the Hague tribunal.

Following talks with Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovich and Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the steps were sufficient to allow him to certify Yugoslav compliance to Congress and release the aid money.

"I did it on the basis of new laws that have been passed in Belgrade, voluntary surrenders that have taken place, and indictments that have been issued to those who remain still outside the jurisdiction of the tribunal. I also noted Kosovar Albanians released, and other actions that have been taken on the part of the government in Belgrade that demonstrated to me that cooperation has improved," Mr. Powell said.

He said he was impressed by the commitment of his Belgrade colleagues for further cooperation with the tribunal. He said more must be done, including bringing to justice Ratko Mladic - the former Bosnian-Serb military commander wanted in connection with a number of Balkans war atrocities. Another key figure being sought is the former Bosnian-Serb President, Radovan Karadzic.

The Secretary of State said there had been "some progress" toward giving war-crimes investigators access to Yugoslav archives, an issue that has generated criticism of Belgrade from human-rights groups. He also said the administration would begin the process of approaching Congress on the normalization of U.S. trade relations with Yugoslavia.

Appearing with the Secretary, Serbian Prime Minister Djinjic said the administration decision had "removed an obstacle" to the development of broader U.S.-Yugoslav relations.

"It is not just about financial aid and about money. It is about strategic partnership between our two countries. And we are, of course, committed to continue our reforms and to try to stabilize our region, the Balkans region, and to move forward in the direction of human rights, minority rights, market economy, and to join the democratic family of European countries.

The $40 million in frozen aid money was the remaining part of a $120 million U.S. assistance package committed to Yugoslavia after the fall of Slobodan Milosevic nearly two years ago.

The freeze, mandated in aid legislation from Congress, also required the United States to oppose international lending to Yugoslavia, prompting the administration only last week to block a major loan by the International Monetary Fund.