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US Approves Aid for Serbia, Montenegro - 2003-06-16

Secretary of State Colin Powell has certified to Congress that Serbia's cooperation with the Balkans war crimes tribunal in the Hague is sufficient to allow continued U.S. aid to Belgrade. The announcement followed the arrest of a top war crimes suspect by Serbian authorities late last week.

The decision clears the way for the delivery to the government of Serbia and Montenegro of about $50 million in U.S. aid - the balance of the $110 million in reconstruction assistance committed to Belgrade this year, contingent on its cooperation with the Hague tribunal.

State Department officials said Mr. Powell made the determination on Sunday, the deadline set by Congress for the administration to certify whether or not Belgrade authorities were cooperating with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

The decision came two days after the arrest in Belgrade of leading war-crimes suspect Veselin Sljivancanin, a former Yugoslav army officer accused of taking part in the massacre of about 200 civilians when Serb forces captured the town of Vukovar in Croatia in 1991.

Indicted in 1995, Mr. Sljivancanin, one of the so-called "Vukovar Three" war crimes suspects, had gone into hiding after the fall of the Slobodan Milosevic regime in 2000 and was captured by a Serbian special forces unit in the capital early Friday.

His arrest was welcomed as a positive step by the Bush administration. But in announcing the certification decision, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said it does not mean the United States believes Belgrade has fully met it obligations, noting that key Balkans war crimes suspects remain at large.

"We have made clear to union and republic authorities in Belgrade that they have an international obligation to fully cooperate with the tribunal, and that the United States continues to expect further action to be taken to meet those obligations. And we continue to call on all states of the region to cooperate fully with the tribunal, including by arresting and transferring Radovan Karadjic and Ratko Mladic," Mr. Boucher said.

Radovan Karadjic headed the Bosnian Serb government during the Balkans war while Ratko Mladic was the military chief.

Had Mr. Powell not certified Serbian cooperation with the Hague tribunal, the remaining U.S. aid would have been frozen, and the Bush administration would have been obligated to oppose international loans to the government of Serbia and Montenegro.