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Kostunica: No Milosevic power in Serbia
Updated: 2004-02-22 11:41

Serbian premier-designate Vojislav Kostunica said on Saturday a planned government dependent on Slobodan Milosevic's party did not mean any power for the former Yugoslav leader, who is on trial for war crimes.

"He is not making a political comeback here," Kostunica told Reuters in an interview, adding Milosevic did not control the once-mighty Socialist Party any more and that it had reformed itself.

The United States and the European Union, which Serbia aims to join one day, have voiced concern about any renewed influence for a party that ruled during the bloody break-up of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Kostunica plans after an inconclusive general election to build a minority coalition with monarchists and liberals that at least initially would depend on the backing in parliament of the Socialist Party.

"When it comes to direct influence on his party I would say there is no influence," Kostunica said, rejecting accusations by former allies in the pro-democracy movement that toppled Milosevic in 2000 that he was giving the former strongman political clout.

"There are more and more differences (between) the Socialist Party and Milosevic," said Kostunica, a self-styled moderate nationalist.


Milosevic, standing trial at the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague on genocide and other charges, remains the Socialist Party's formal leader and headed its candidate list in the December 28 general election.

Serbia's next government is likely to come under renewed pressure to hand over suspects such as wartime Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic to The Hague, a key condition for crucial Western aid and closer ties with the EU and NATO.

But Kostunica, who defeated Milosevic at Yugoslav presidency polls in 2000, made clear he was against handing over four army and police generals accused of war crimes during the 1999 Kosovo conflict to the U.N. tribunal, which indicted them last year.

Kostunica, 59, a law professor whose priorities include establishing an independent judiciary, has often accused the tribunal of bias against Serbs and blamed it for increased support in Serbia for the ultra-nationalist Radical Party.

He said Serbian authorities did not know where Mladic was and outlined both legal and political obstacles to handing over the four indicted generals, who include a police chief.

"But I'm not against cooperation and efforts made by our government and officials in Washington and The Hague about the possibility of giving our domestic judiciary a chance to deal with these cases," Kostunica said.

Kostunica's government, expected to be formed next week or early the following week, faces huge economic challenges in a country shaped by decades of socialism and ruined by years of strife. Unemployment runs at 30 percent.

He said his government would aim to cut public spending and taxes, make it easier to start small firms, attract foreign investors, press ahead with privatizations and keep under control a foreign debt estimated at $13.8 billion.

Under his leadership, Serbia would seek to move closer to the European Union but was unlikely to join the bloc soon.

"We have lost so much time because of Milosevic," said Kostunica, speaking at the headquarters of his Democratic Party of Serbia a day after he was formally tasked by Serbia's acting president with forming a government.

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