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Yugoslav Parliament Adopts Extradition Law; Former Official Shoots Himself - 2002-04-11

A former Serbian interior minister, who has been indicted for war crimes, shot himself Thursday. Just hours earlier, the Yugoslav parliament approved a law that will pave the way for suspected war criminals to be extradited to the U.N. tribunal in The Hague. The former minister was taken to a hospital, but his condition was unclear.

Police officials in Belgrade say Vlajko Stojiljkovic shot himself in the head in front of the federal parliament building in Belgrade.

Mr. Stojiljkovic was a close associate of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. He has been indicted by the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague for his role as head of the ministry in charge of Serbian police during the Kosovo conflict.

He shot himself soon after the lower house of Yugoslavia's parliament approved the extradition law 80 votes to 39. The smaller, upper house had approved the legislation Wednesday.

The law was adopted under pressure from the United States, which has linked financial aid to the transfer of war crimes suspects to the U.N. tribunal.

After Yugoslavia failed to meet a March 31 U.S. deadline to cooperate with the U.N.-court, Washington effectively froze $40 million of aid. It is unclear if the new law will be enough to satisfy the international community, as there are indications that it will not apply to all suspected war criminals.

Nationalists and reformers in parliament worked out a compromise that would only allow the extradition of suspects already indicted by the U.N. court. That would include Mr. Stojiljkovic.

Yugoslav officials hope that, with the new law, their country will be seen as fulfilling its obligations as a United Nations member, and that it will be able to receive the Western aid it desperately needs.

Current Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica has expressed his reservations about the tribunal, while the pro-Western Serbian prime minister, Zoran Djindjic, supports cooperation with the U.N. court. Mr. Djindjic, who was instrumental in the extradition of former President Milosevic, said Thursday he expects the first extradition under the new law will occur as early as this month.

Those likely to be transferred first to The Hague are top Milosevic associates indicted along with the former president in connection with atrocities committed during the Kosovo conflict.