War crimes suspect shoots himself in protest of extradition law

Friday, April 12th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Yugoslav leaders appealed to war crimes suspects to cooperate with a U.N. tribunal after a former Serbian police chief shot himself in the head to protest a law clearing the way for the extradition of those indicted.

Vlajko Stojiljkovic, who has been indicted by the court, attempted suicide Thursday evening, just hours after lawmakers approved a law allowing arrests and extraditions to the court based in The Hague, Netherlands. He was interior minister in charge of police during former Slobodan Milosevic's regime.

Stojiljkovic, 65, was in a coma on life support and his chances of surviving ``are minimal,'' said Ljiljana Djordjic, a surgeon on the team that operated on him.

He had walked out of the parliament building Thursday, then pulled out a gun and squeezed off a round.

``With this act ... I express my protest of this puppet regime,'' a suicide note said, accusing the new democratic government of ``destroying Yugoslavia ... ruthless violation of the constitution and laws of this country, the policy of treason and capitulation.''

Just hours earlier, lawmakers _ under a threat of U.S. sanctions _ passed a law removing legal obstacles for the arrest and extradition of Stojiljkovic and other top associates of Milosevic to the tribunal.

The law, which applies to about 20 indicted suspects in Yugoslavia, was approved by a vote of 80-39 in the 138-seat lower parliament chamber, with the other deputies absent. The upper house had approved it Wednesday. The law will take effect upon publication in the official gazette, which was expected within days.

In the suicide note, Stojiljkovic singled out Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and other top leaders of the leadership that unseated Milosevic in October 2000. ``The citizens of this country and patriots will know how to avenge me,'' the letter concluded.

In a late night televised address, Kostunica called Stojiljkovic's act ``a tragic event and a warning to all.''

``This is also a warning to the international community, which keeps putting pressure and conditions on us,'' said Kostunica, who had opposed extraditions of war crimes suspects without the law. ``But the tribunal is a reality ... no one can escape responsibility for past actions.''

``Suicide is definitely not a way of fighting for one's rights,'' said Yugoslav Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic. ``I hope none of the other war crimes suspects will try anything similar _ it would be totally irrational.''

A close Milosevic family friend, Stojiljkovic was despised by Milosevic's opponents for ordering a violent police crackdown against anti-Milosevic protesters in Belgrade in the late 1990s.

Outraged by the new law and impeding arrests, several hundred Milosevic's supporters protested outside the federal parliament late Thursday, chanting ``Murderers, treason!'' and calling for more rallies for Friday.

The law will apply to only to suspects already indicted by the U.N. tribunal. Any suspects indicted later would be tried by Yugoslav courts, it says.

The law _ strongly opposed by allies of Milosevic, who was extradited to the court last year _ allows a district court judge to issue warrants and order police to detain suspects. A suspect's transfer to the tribunal would occur within a few weeks of an arrest, allowing time for appeal.

Besides Stojiljkovic, those likely to be extradited first were top Milosevic associates indicted along with the ex-president for atrocities in the 1998-99 crackdown on Kosovo's Albanians, including Gen. Dragoljub Ojdanic, a former army commander and Nikola Sainovic, a former security adviser.