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Yugoslav Foreign Minister Assures Chairman Smith of Improved Human Rights

WASHINGTON – Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic assured United States Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today that his government is committed to improving human rights conditions and building democratic institutions in the wake of fallen ruler Slobodan Milosevic and his decade-long reign of terror.

“I am encouraged by Mr. Svilanovic’s assurances and remain hopeful,” Chairman Smith said after his meeting on Friday. Smith raised a number of human rights issues, including the release of Kosovar Albanians incarcerated in Serbian prisons, turning over persons indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and bringing those responsible for crimes internally, like the assassination of journalist Slavko Curuvija, to justice.

Foreign Minister Svilanovic said his government, under the leadership of newly elected President Vojislav Kostunica, is committed to restoring basic human rights and the rule of law.

The Foreign Minister responded that a long-awaited amnesty law would soon be adopted and bring the issue of imprisoned Kosovar Albanians to an end. He acknowledged that all countries must respect international obligations, including participation with The Hague Tribunal created to prosecute those responsible for crimes associated with the former Yugoslavia’s violent demise. He suggested steps which would inevitably lead to proceedings against those indicted.

Smith responded that, in addition to Milosevic, those responsible for what were, undeniably, major crimes in Vukovar, Croatia, in 1991 and Srebrenica, Bosnia, and known to reside in Yugoslavia must be surrendered. He provided the Foreign Minister with copies of the indictments of these individuals.

Mr. Svilanovic said his government is weighing a number of options by either prosecuting indictees on Yugoslav soil or sending them to The Hague.

The Foreign Minister called U.S. assistance this year respectable and very helpful, noting that conditionality on this assistance comes into effect beginning April 1. Mr. Smith noted his long-time efforts in the Congress for increased aid to a democratic Serbia and Montenegro, the two constituent republics of Yugoslavia, arguing that this assistance could serve as a bridge until the country can get back on its feet economically. Presently, the country is facing major problems, including power shortages.

Combating corruption and the links between political elites and organized crime were also discussed. Svilanovic told Smith that the people want to improve their economic situation but are even more demanding that those who became rich at their expense be put behind bars.

Smith expressed concern about continued regional instability, to which Foreign Minister Svilanovic pledged Yugoslavia’s support for Bosnia’s territorial integrity and desire to establish relations with Albania. On Montenegro, the Foreign Minister called for a truly democratic and constitutional process for addressing differences, which would likely lead to a more decentralized federation rather than a break-up.

Svilanovic indicated that Kosovar moves towards independence would threaten stability.

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