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Ex-Serbian President Expected to be Extradited to The Hague - 2002-12-30

The outgoing president of Yugoslavia's main republic, Serbia, is expected to be extradited to the U.N. war-crimes tribunal in The Hague. Milan Milutinovic's term in office expired Sunday, ending his immunity against charges he was responsible for war crimes in Kosovo Province

Speaking on state-run television, Yugoslav Assistant Justice Minister Nebojsa Sarkic did not rule out the possibility that Milan Milutinovic, who hours earlier was president of Serbia, would spend Orthodox Christmas in detention at the U.N. court in The Hague.

Mr. Sarkic said he believed an investigative judge would soon ask Serbia to start extradition proceedings and that he expected the government's response within two days.

Yugoslav officials have suggested that the transfer is possible because Mr. Milutinovic's immunity was lifted when his term in office ended Sunday.

U.N. prosecutors have pressured Belgrade to extradite Mr. Milutinovic on charges of war crimes against ethnic Albanians in 1999, during the conflict in Serbia's Kosovo province.

The transfer is not without controversy. Serbia's justice minister, Vladan Batic, has urged chief U.N. prosecutor Carla Del Ponte to step down, saying she is biased against the Serbs.

Mr. Batic said Ms. Del Ponte had indicted only Serbs for crimes committed during the 1998-1999 Kosovo war, while failing to pursue Albanian suspects.

Ms. Del Ponte's spokeswoman Florence Hartman rejected the allegations, describing them as part of "a game aimed at public opinion in countries that do not want to comply with international law."

The extradition of Mr. Milutinovic would be another major step for the prosecution in The Hague. He was considered part of the inner circle of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who was handed over on war crimes charges nearly two years ago.

U.N. prosecutors also hope that Mr. Milutinovic's transfer will force local authorities to hand over other key suspects, including wartime Bosnian-Serb General Ratko Mladic.

Mr. Mladic has been accused of involvement in a 1995 massacre of up to 8,000 Muslims in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica.