Milosevic lawyer files challenge to decree

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia, AP

Slobodan Milosevic’s lawyer filed a challenge Monday with Yugoslavia’s Constitutional Court, asserting that a government extradition decree is unconstitutional.

Toma Fila, the head of Milosevic’s 10-member defense team, said his lawyers would demand that the constitutional court block implementation of the decree until it decides whether the measure was illegal.

The constitutional court judges will convene a council which has to decide whether the challenge has any legal basis.

The U.N. war crimes court, based in The Hague, Netherlands, is seeking extradition of the ex-president for alleged war crimes committed in Kosovo during the 1998-99 war.

The United States and its allies have hailed the Yugoslav government decision to clear legal obstacles for the extradition of Milosevic and more then one dozen other war crimes suspects sought by The Hague court.

The 41-page indictment from the tribunal charges Milosevic and four others with crimes against humanity and violations of the laws and customs of war. The indictment discusses attacks by Yugoslav government forces on ethnic Albanian civilians, destruction of their property and physical and verbal abuse.

Yugoslavia risks losing billions of dollars in foreign aid if it fails to cooperate with The Hague court. Efforts at improving ties with the U.N. tribunal have intensified ahead of a donors conference scheduled for Friday in Brussels, Belgium.

Some Serbian officials have suggested that the appeals process could delay any extradition for more than two weeks. If extradited, Milosevic would be the first former head of state to face a war crimes trial in front of the U.N. court, established in 1992.

The extradition decree was passed by the Yugoslav government Saturday and took effect the following day.

It was not immediately clear how soon any legal procedure for Milosevic’s extradition will start.

Fila, Milosevic’s lawyer, assailed the decree as “legal piracy.” He said Milosevic read the decree and also said it was illegal because nearly half of the ministers in the Yugoslav Cabinet were absent when it was agreed on.

“This was a political decision and it renders the law helpless against such bullying methods,” Fila said.

The decree is the work of federal government ministers from Serbia, the larger of the two Yugoslav republics. Ministers from the sister republic, Montenegro, oppose the extradition of Yugoslav citizens but are outnumbered in the Cabinet.