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Report Says Serbian PM Aides Had Ties to Former Communists - 2004-03-05

The credibility of Serbia's new government suffered a blow Friday, with the publication of reports that two of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's government appointees had close links to the country's former Communists, and one has a criminal past.

Media reports on Friday sparked public outrage over the prime minister's appointment of Justice Minister Zoran Stojkovic, who reportedly was a notorious Communist-era judge, who convicted six prominent dissidents in 1984 for anti-state activities.

According to the reports, Mr. Stojkovic was involved in political trials under former Yugoslav President Josip Bros Tito.

In addition, radio station B-92 reported that the new secretary of the government's legislative committee, Zoran Balinovac, once belonged to the neo-communist Jugoslav Left party, once led by the wife of former President Slobodan Milosevic.

Compounding Mr. Kostunica's problems, Serbian media also reported that the country's newly appointed top law enforcement officer, Interior Minister Dragan Jocic, was once convicted of robbing a newsstand.

Daniel Sunter, a Belgrade-based assistant editor of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, says Serbia's new government is off to a poor start. "This coalition is pretty complicated," he said. "It is a fragile coalition. So it is very hard at the moment to say how long the government will operate and last."

Mr. Sunter and other analysts say that the prime minister's chances of survival will depend on his ability to tackle corruption and poverty, two of Serbia's key problems.

He warns that Mr. Kostunica's refusal to cooperate with the U.N. War Crimes Tribunal will backfire, as the international community withdraws its support for his country.