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Serbia Gets Beyond Deadlock, On Verge of New Government

By Nicholas Wood

The New York Times -- After weeks of political deadlock, Serbia on Monday appeared on the verge of forming a new government, but the composition of the minority coalition, and the members’ shared opposition to the international war crimes tribunal, may sour already difficult relations with the West.

For weeks the moderate nationalist leader, Vojislav Kostunica of the Democratic Party of Serbia, had been trying to form a coalition to prevent the hard-line nationalist Serbian Radical Party from taking power. The Radical Party was the clear winner in parliamentary elections last December but gained too few seats to rule alone.

The Serbian Socialist Party of the former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic said Monday it was willing to back the minority government.

The Serbian Socialist deputies would support the coalition in Parliament but would not take part in the administration, Zoran Andjelkovic, secretary general of the party, said. Milosevic, who is being tried by the tribunal on war crimes charges, is still the official leader of the party.

In a telephone interview, Andjelkovic said that by the end of the week “Mr. Kostunica will be given a mandate to form a new government” after four parties, including the Socialists, held talks Monday with the Parliament’s speaker.

By turning to the Socialists, Kostunica has allied himself with his former foes. In the 2000 presidential elections, he led an 18-party coalition that defeated Milosevic. The same coalition then extradited Milosevic to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

While Kostunica has apparently succeeded in blocking the ultra nationalists, his proposed government is unlikely to please the countries that Serbia is relying on for financial aid.

All four coalition parties have voiced their opposition to the U.N. war crimes tribunal. Cooperation with the court is a prerequisite for U.S. aid worth up to $100 million as well as membership in institutions like NATO and the European Union. Congress is to vote on the aid package next month.

The court’s chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, said last week that Serbia had become a “safe haven” for war criminals. She said that at least 15 people charged with war crimes were at large in the country, including the tribunal’s two most wanted men, Radovan Karadzic, the wartime leader of the Bosnian Serbs, and Ratko Mladic, the commander of the Bosnian Serb army.

The Socialist Party’s opposition to the tribunal is well known. Kostunica’s two main allies in government also recently signed an agreement that would in theory prevent the government from handing key suspects over to the court.

The document, signed on Jan. 21 by his Serbian Democratic Party as well as the Serbian Renewal Party and G17 Plus, aims to prevent the extradition of Serbs charged with crimes linked to “command responsibility.”