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US Expresses Condolences Over Assassination of Serbian PM

The United States joined other countries in mourning the death of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, who was assassinated in Belgrade Wednesday. The Bush administration hailed Mr. Djindjic's role in helping bring democracy to Serbia after almost a decade of war in the Balkans.

Mr. Djindjic, a reformer who became head of Serbia's first non-communist government in 2001, was a frequent visitor to Washington, and a key player in negotiations lifting U.S. sanctions against Serbia and the broader Yugoslav federation imposed during the Slobodan Milosevic era.

President Bush sent his condolences to the Serbian people. And in a tribute to Mr. Djindjic read by his spokesman Richard Boucher, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the late prime minister will be remembered for his role, in the face of considerable domestic opposition, in sending Mr. Milosevic to the Hague to face Balkans war crimes charges.

"His courageous decision to transfer Milosevic to the Hague to stand trial for his alleged war crimes played a crucial role in helping Serbia come to terms with, and move beyond its recent past," he said. "He promoted the economic and political reforms necessary for Serbia's integration into Europe, and spoke out against extremism in all forms. He courageously initiated a public campaign to combat organized crime, which threatens every institution in Serbian society."

Secretary of State Powell said the United States remains committed to helping Serbia undertake the further reforms that will lead it toward a brighter and more prosperous future.

Spokesman Boucher said it was too early to speculate on what effect the death of Mr. Djindjic may have on efforts to bring to justice other war crimes suspects thought to be in hiding in Serbia, but said he thinks the government put in place by the late prime minister will continue his policies.

U.S. aid to the newly renamed federation of Serbia and Montenegro depends on its cooperation with the Hague tribunal, and under terms of the relevant legislation, the administration must decide June 15 if its support for the Hague process has been sufficient to allowed continued help.

The United States is pressing in particular for the arrest and hand over of former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic, accused of genocide in the Bosnian war, and two Serb officers wanted for war crimes.

Mr. Boucher said U.S. officials know that the three remain at large and that "more work needs to be done" to ensure that they face the charges against them.