Yugoslavia Asks Court to Start Milosevic Extradition Process

Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's day before the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague came a step closer today when the Yugoslav government asked a court to begin extradition procedures.

According to a statement reported by Tanjug, Yugoslavia's state news agency, Justice Minister Momcilo Grubac today presented Belgrade District Court with a demand from the U.N tribunal to surrender Milosevic.

Cooperation with The Hague over extradition procedures had begun with Grubac's move, the government statement said.

The move followed attempts by the Serb strongman to fight the extradition in the courts. Earlier today, lawyers for Milosevic filed an appeal with Yugoslavia's Constitutional Court, claiming a decree paving the way for his extradition to The Hague was unconstitutional.

Following intense pressure from the international community to turn in Milosevic, the Yugoslav government passed a decree, which took effect on Sunday, allowing for the transfer of indicted war criminals to The Hague.

Although the constitution forbids the extradition of Yugoslav citizens, reformist politicians who pushed through the measure argue that handing a suspect over to The Hague does not amount to an extradition as the tribunal is a U. N. institution, not a foreign state.

Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia has also said it will challenge the decree.

Increased Public Support For Extradition

Despite opposition from Milosevic supporters, the possibility of his extradition enjoys widespread support in the war-ravaged Balkan country, which stands to lose billions of dollars in foreign aid.

Under current leader, President Vojislav Kostunica, the government has been preparing the people for a likely extradition, using the media to inform Serbs about the crimes allegedly carried out by their former president.

In recent weeks, the media has aired Serbian police videos showing the excavation of three mass graves just 10 miles from Belgrade. Serb police say that the bodies of 2,000 ethnic Albanians, mainly women and children, were transported from Kosovo two years ago and burned or buried on Milosovic's orders.

The government's latest moves to extradite the indicted war criminal came as EU foreign ministers today said a Yugoslav donors' conference due to take place in Brussels later this week would go ahead following the passing of the decree at the weekend.

Fears that the conference might be postponed or cancelled were put to rest when EU foreign ministers released a statement today welcoming the decree as a "positive step on the path towards full cooperation with the [war crimes] tribunal."

‘Slobo’ Could Make History

Milosevic has been held in Belgrade's Central Prison since April during an investigation into allegations of corruption and abuse of power during his tenure. He was ousted last fall in a popular uprising.

After a succession of wars that he started and lost, Milosovic is now an embarassment and a disgrace to the nation. Yugoslav officials now accuse Milosevic of attempting to hide evidence of war crimes. "He wanted to remove the evidence of the crimes that took place there," said former secret police chief Dragan Vitomirovic.

Milosevic has eight days to appeal the decree, and then he may become the first former head of state to face the international war crimes tribunal.

ABCNEWS' Linda Albin and Hilary Brown contributed to this report.

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