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Deiss urges Yugoslav cooperation with war crimes tribunal

Joseph Deiss (right) urged Yugoslav president Vojislav Kostunica (left) to cooperate with war crimes investigators Keystone

The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, has urged Yugoslavia to co-operate with the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, during talks with Yugoslav leaders in Belgrade. It is the first visit by a Swiss foreign minister to Yugoslavia since 1996.

Deiss said the new leadership should work with the court in trying to bring suspected Yugoslav war criminals to justice. The government has so far refused to hand over the former Yugoslav president, Slobodan Milosevic, or other suspects.

Deiss’s appeal came as the tribunal’s chief prosecutor, Switzerland’s Carla del Ponte, arrived in Belgrade to seek help from the new administration in bringing suspected war criminals before the Hague court.

The war crimes tribunal increased the pressure on the Yugoslav authorities to cooperate on Tuesday by reissuing its warrant for Milosevic’s arrest. The new warrant included a call for Belgrade to freeze the assets of Milosevic and four other leading officials indicted by the Hague court.

Previously the call to freeze the former leader’s assets applied only to members of the United Nations and to Switzerland, which is not a UN member.

Tuesday’s meeting between Del Ponte and President Kostunica was reportedly tense. The Yugoslav press agency, Tanjug, said that a “number of differences emerged over [Yugoslav] cooperation with the war crimes tribunal”.

Joseph Deiss’s own visit also focused on boosting Switzerland’s economic ties with Yugoslavia. After talks with his Yugoslav counterpart, Goran Svilanovic, he said that they had agreed to start negotiations on accords to ease trade and investments.

The priority was an accord on double taxation, he said.

The foreign minister also said an accord had already been reached giving Yugoslav imports the preferential treatment granted to developing countries.

The Yugoslav prime minister, Zoran Zizic, thanked Switzerland for its impartial aid policy during the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s. Swiss help is to be re-focused from emergency aid to assisting the country’s reconstruction.

The country will donate SFr50 million ($30 million)over the next three years. Deiss signed a deal committing Switzerland to provide training for the Yugoslav foreign ministry.

Swiss foreign ministry spokeswoman Daniela Stoffel also said that Switzerland would try to share its experience as a successful federal state with Yugoslavia. The Yugoslav authorities are due to launch a campaign to promote ethnic tolerance, ahead of a new law on minority rights.

They are expected to be advised by Switzerland’s University of Fribourg, which has an internationally recognised centre for the study of federalism, particularly in multi-ethnic countries like Switzerland and Yugoslavia.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR