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FORMER Yugoslav leader Milosevic, imprisoned in Netherlands, to face U.N. tribunal


THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) _ Slobodan Milosevic, architect of the Balkan conflicts that produced Europe's most barbarous atrocities since World War II, was imprisoned here Friday _ a humiliating end to his battle to avoid prosecution before the U.N. war crimes tribunal for ``crimes against humanity.''

Milosevic, the first former head of state to face the U.N. court, was handed over Thursday by Serb officials, despite a Yugoslav court ruling that barred his extradition to stand trial for alleged atrocities in Kosovo.

The former Yugoslav president was believed to have been flown from a U.S. military base in Bosnia to the Netherlands aboard a British plane. He was delivered by helicopter before dawn Friday to the bleak, walled prison to await trial for atrocities committed by his forces in the crackdown against Kosovo Albanians two years ago.

Tribunal spokesman Jim Landale said Milosevic spent an uneventful first night in the U.N. wing of the Dutch prison. He was assigned temporarily to a private cell, pending a final decision on whether he will be segregated from the 38 other war crimes defendants, Landale added.

In the meantime, authorities are watching carefully to see how the man who once described himself as the ``Ayatollah Khomeini of the Balkans'' will react to his new environment.

``They will keep a close eye on his mood and provide whatever he needs,'' Landale said. ``The assessment will continue for a few days, working out what the appropriate arrangements should be, keeping in mind his security and well being.''

He was expected to be arraigned within a week, according to tribunal officials.

The dramatic decision to deliver Milosevic to the tribunal _ in defiance of an order by the Yugoslav Constitututional Court staying any extradition _ threatened to plunge the Balkan country into a political crisis.

Milosevic's successor, Vojislav Kostunica, denounced the handover as ``illegal and unconstitutional.'' Others accused Serb Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, who spearheaded the decision, of ``treason'' and knuckling under U.S. pressure.

Nevertheless, the arrival of the most important defendant ever indicted by the tribunal was a stunning triumph for the U.N. court, formed in 1993 to prosecute those responsible for atrocities committed as the former Yugoslavia disintegrated into ethnic wars that left the country economically prostrate and shunned by the world community.

``The transfer of Slobodan Milosevic to the tribunal is a turning point and the beginning of a new era in the development of international criminal justice,'' tribunal President Claude Jorda said in a statement.

Jorda promised a ``fair and expeditious trial in accordance with the highest international standards.''

``This is the ultimate case,'' Landale said. He predicted a ``relatively lengthy trial'' with ``complex legal issues.''

President Bush praised Yugoslavia for handing over Milosevic, saying the move showed the Balkan nation wants to turn away from ``its tragic past and toward a brighter future.''

U.S. officials said the administration planned to make a pledge in the range of about $100 million for a Yugoslav assistance package, to be discussed Friday in Brussels at a conference of international aid donors.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair hailed the handover as ``a thoroughly good thing.'' Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel said the Yugoslav government was ``turning over a dark page in European history.''

Back home, however, the response was different. About 3,000 Milosevic supporters rallied Thursday night in Belgrade, chanting, ``Treason.'' Some turned on television crews covering the demonstration.

At the headquarters of Milosevic's Socialist Party, Zivadin Jovanovic, the party's acting head, said the handover amounted to a coup d'etat.

``What happened is that Djindjic suspended the constitutional system of Yugoslavia,'' Jovanovic said. ``Djindjic introduced dictatorship, and the responsibility for that lies on him and all others who did nothing to prevent this.''

Djindjic, however, said there was no choice for Yugoslavia but to surrender Milosevic or face renewed international isolation and a freeze on financial aid, leading to ``unprecedented humiliation.''

Milosevic and the others facing charges stemming from the Balkan wars are housed in a special prison unit spread over four floors with 12 cells each, patrolled by U.N. guards. Inmates in the U.N. wing each have their own 17-by-10-foot cell, with shower, toilet, washbasin and desk.

Inmates spend much of their time outside their rooms, and have access to television, a fully equipped gym, an outdoor courtyard, a library, a recreation room, a prison shop and a religion room for prayer. They may take courses in arts, languages and sciences. They also have the opportunity to see visitors, in private if they are married.

Milosevic, 59, faces charges for atrocities committed in Kosovo during an offensive against the province's ethnic Albanian rebels. About 10,000 ethnic Albanians were estimated to have died in the crackdown, which ended in 1999, after a 78-day NATO bombing campaign.

The charges in the May 1999 indictment include crimes against humanity and violation of the laws and customs of war. The war crimes tribunal has said it is preparing a possible case against Milosevic for genocide in connection with atrocities committed in the wars in Bosnia and Croatia.

After ousting Milosevic in October following a controversial election and popular uprising, Yugoslavia's pro-democracy leaders refused to extradite him, citing constitutional restrictions barring the extradition of Yugoslav citizens to foreign courts.

That changed after U.S. officials made clear they would link economic aid to cooperation with the tribunal. Milosevic was arrested in April after a standoff with police, and the government promised to change its law to provide for his extradition.

The Yugoslav parliament refused to approve the new law, but authorities issued a government decree allowing for the extradition.
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