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Powell Endorses Political Reform Effort of Serbian Leaders During Washington Meeting - 2003-07-24

Secretary of State Colin Powell met Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic and Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic of Serbia and Montenegro Thursday in a meeting that focussed on political and economic reform efforts in the Balkans federation.

Mr. Powell visited Belgrade and met Mr. Zivkovic less than three weeks after the March 12 assassination of his predecessor Zoran Djindjic.

And officials here say the Bush administration remains committed to helping authorities in Belgrade to carry on the reform process begun by the late prime minister, and his efforts to integrate Serbia and Montenegro into Euro-Atlantic institutions.

In comments to reporters with the two Belgrade officials alongside him after their meeting, Mr. Powell endorsed the reform efforts, which have gained momentum in the wake of Mr. Djindjic assassination.

"I complemented the prime minister and the foreign minister on the work they have been doing to put in place solid reforms and the support they've been able to get from their people for these reforms in the aftermath of the assassination of Mr. Djindjic," he said. "And so I was very pleased to receive them and get a report. And we thanked them for the solid cooperation that we are receiving from Serbia on the war against terrorism and other bilateral issues of mutual interest."

The Belgrade officials also met here with the State Department's ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues Pierre-Richard Prosper on the hunt for persons under indictment by the Balkans war crimes tribunal at the Hague, including former Bosnian-Serb military chief Ratko Mladic.

Serbian sources said Mr. Zivkovic assured Ambassador Prosper that Mr. Mladic, charged with crimes against humanity including the 1995 massacre of Bosnia Muslims at Srebrenica, will be arrested if found on the territory of Serbia.

They said they also discussed bilateral cooperation on a new Serbian war crimes court due to begin work in September.

Secretary Powell last month certified that cooperation by Serbia and Montenegro with the Hague tribunal was sufficient, under terms set by an act of Congress, to merit the release of about $50 million in U.S. aid.

However the State Department said it expected "further actions" by the new federation to meet its obligations, and appealed for steps by all Balkans states to help arrest and extradite Mr. Mladic and the other most-wanted suspect, former Bosnian-Serb president Radovan Karadzic.