London (CNSNews.com) - The Yugoslav government is preparing to issue a decree Friday to cooperate with the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague, paving the way for the extradition of former strongman Slobodan Milosevic and other citizens accused of atrocities during the Kosovo conflict.
The move comes shortly after American officials confirmed that the U.S. would likely boycott a major donor conference in Brussels next week, crucial for the rebuilding of Yugoslavia after a decade of Balkan wars and sanctions, because of Belgrade's non-cooperation with the tribunal.
As late as Thursday, just a week away from the conference, State Department spokesman Phillip Reeker said that "at this point, we haven't made a decision in terms of our attending."
Belgrade has been under growing pressure to hand over Milosevic, who has been indicted for war crimes. But the man who replaced him last October, President Vojislav Kostunica, said this could not happen under the country's existing laws.
Earlier this week his government tried to pass a bill on extradition, but the effort was thwarted Thursday by its junior coalition partner, a left-wing Montenegrin party formerly allied to Milosevic.
Instead the Justice Ministry Friday drafted a decree on the subject. Kostunica's Democratic Opposition of Serbia has enough of a majority in the federal cabinet to pass a decree, unlike the situation in the federal parliament where it needs the Montenegrin Socialist People's Party's support to pass laws.
Once the decree has been put in place, Milosevic could be taken to The Hague within days. If he is not in the tribunal's custody by the time the donor's conference starts next Friday, Yugoslavia stands to lose pledges of international aid worth millions of dollars, from the U.S. and other countries.
Milosevic has been jailed since April 1 on charges of abuse of power and financial irregularities. The Hague tribunal has indicted him for crimes against humanity arising from his policies against the ethnic Albanian community in Kosovo, policies that prompted NATO's 1999 war against Belgrade.
Recent opinion polls show a shifting in public opinion towards extradition, particularly after the reported discovery of two more mass graves, believed to contain the remains of Kosovar Albanian women and children.
A Strategic Marketing poll recorded a 46 per cent support for Milosevic's extradition to The Hague while 36 per cent of respondents were opposed.
A spokesperson for the tribunal in The Hague declined to comment Friday on the decree, but said a statement two days earlier had called it an "internal matter for the Yugoslav government. Until Milosevic or any other indicted person is here at the tribunal, we are not involved."
Besides Milosevic, 25 indictees remain at large, including former Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Gen Ratko Mladic.