Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic could avoid prosecution for alleged war crimes by not leaving his country, President Clinton said today, because the United States and other NATO countries lack the legal right to go beyond Kosovo to seize him.
"I think it's important that we not in any way mislead people" Clinton said today when asked if Milosevic would be brought to trial for his government's role in the slaughter and deportation of thousands of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, a province of Serbia, Yugoslavia's dominant republic.
"I do not believe that the NATO allies can invade Belgrade to try to deliver the indictment," he said. If Milosevic remains in Yugoslavia, "presumably he's beyond the reach of the extradition powers of the other governments."
Speaking to reporters in Paris, the second stop in a seven-day European tour, Clinton said the U.N. international war crimes tribunal was right to indict Milosevic, a man he has compared to Adolf Hitler. However, he said, "our heaviest responsibility, the NATO allies, is to get the [Kosovo Albanian refugees] back home in safety and then to give them self-government, autonomy and rebuilding assistance."
Clinton made the remarks at a news conference with French President Jacques Chirac on the grounds of the Elysee Palace. Both men said Western nations might provide humanitarian aid to all of Yugoslavia -- including Serbia, Milosevic's stronghold -- but that Serbia will receive no financial aid for postwar rebuilding as long as Milosevic is in power.
"There can be no economic development aid to a regime which is not democratic and whose present leader, furthermore, has been indicted [on charges of] crimes against humanity," Chirac said. Clinton agreed, saying, "There's some humanitarian support we should make available to all the people of the region, including the Serbs in Serbia."
Clinton said it is possible that Milosevic will be tried someday, but he suggested this would happen only if he is overthrown or leaves Yugoslavia. NATO's policy, he said, "does not mean that this is not an important thing, or that there won't someday be a trial. . . . Sometimes these things take a good while to bear fruit."
Alluding to grisly discoveries by NATO troops entering Kosovo, Clinton said he found it "moving to see our soldiers uncovering evidence of what we stood against -- evidence of mass graves, evidence in the form of the piles of documents stripped from the refugees to erase their identities."
Afterward, Clinton flew to Cologne, where he and other leaders of the Group of Seven industrialized democracies will take part in a summit Friday. The rebuilding of Kosovo and stabilization of the Balkan region will be a major topic; Russian President Boris Yeltsin is scheduled to join the other leaders on Sunday, the summit's final day.