Apparently the Dutch have said they won’t approve Serbia’s Stability and Association agreement unless Serbia comes up with suspected war criminal Ratko Mladic.
This comes from the excellent B92 site:
Holland will not let Serbia sign the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) until Ratko MladiÄ‡ is transferred to the Hague [said] Dutch European Affairs Minister Frans Timmermans… in an interview published by Belgium daily Le Soir today.
“We have been saying, and I repeated this clearly, that Serbia has to cooperate fully with the Hague Tribunal. This means that MladiÄ‡ has to be transferred to the Hague Tribunal prison,” said Timmermans.
By the way, I went to the Le Soir site to find the interview. You know what? Everything but the front page is pay-per-view. Cripes. What is this, 2004? That just seems so very Belgian somehow…
Le Soir reported that Slovenian Foreign Minister Dmitrij Rupel’s visit to Holland on Thursday had been unsuccessful because he had failed to persuade his Dutch colleagues to allow Serbia to sign the SAA on January 28.
You may recall that Slovenia is holding the rotating EU Presidency just now. It was hoped that having a former Yugoslav republic there might help with some of the knotty Balkan issues that are bubbling up just now, especially Kosovo.
Stressing that Holland “has rather close cooperation with Belgium on this case,” Timmermans said that, according to the statements from former Hague Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, it would be easy for the Serbian government to transfer MladiÄ‡, but that the situation with the remaining three fugitives was less clear.
Clarifying the reasons for his countryâ€™s stance on the matter, Timmermans explained that the Hague was the world’s metropolis of international law as several international courts were located there.
“We have certain responsibility for the functioning of those institutions. Also, there is a rather uncomfortable situation relating to Srebrenica, which concerns all Dutch people. (â€¦) The fact that those crimes were witnessed by Dutchmen has a direct impact on our stand regarding the war crimes committed in Yugoslavia,” the minister concluded.
I posted about this almost a year ago. At that time, both Belgium and Holland were saying they wouldn’t allow Serbia to become an EU candidate unless there was cooperation with the Hague. I don’t know if Belgium is still on board, but it looks like the Dutch are willing to hold the line.
At this point someone pops up and says, how can a whole country’s candidacy be held hostage to one man? Two answers. First, this has happened before… Croatia’s candidacy was stalled for about half a year because they refused to produce suspected war criminal Ante Gotovina. Eventually they started cooperating, the process was allowed to begin again, and Gotovina was found and arrested. If Croatia had to do it, Serbia should be held to the same standard.
Second, while Mladic is important, it’s not just about him. The current government of Serbia has pretty much stopped even pretending to cooperate with the Hague. They don’t even go through the motions of looking for Mladic, Karadzic and the other missing suspects. You may recall that they handed over Zdravko Tolimir last year; well, that was the first handover in two years, and there hasn’t been another one since. Requests from the Hague for information or assistance are greeted with contemptuous silence. The Kostunica government doesn’t want to cooperate with the Hague at all, and will do only the minimum that it absolutely must.
This comes at an interesting time. On one hand, many Serbian politicians — including Kostunica! — are saying that they shouldn’t sign the SAA if the EU moves to get involved in Kosovo. Meanwhile, there are voices in Brussels saying that Serbia should get a special fast-track to membership if they’re willing to give Kosovo up. Both of these are rendered moot by the Dutch decision, and that’s a good thing.
A year ago I asked whether this position was tenable in the long term. A lot of pressure may be brought to bear on the Dutch (and the Belgians, if they’re still in it). Will they still be vetoing Serbia’s candidacy six months, a year, two years from now? Watch this space.